Last fall, Andrew Janz would come home after a full day as a Fresno County prosecutor and start dialing the phone.
Contributions are the lifeblood of any major political campaign and Janz needed them. To get the word out that he was running for Congress. To distance himself from other Democrats with their hearts set on going to Washington, D.C. And to show the incumbent in California’s 22nd District, Devin Nunes, he was someone to be reckoned with.
But those phone calls netted the Janz campaign little except frustration. Doubts arose. Janz asked himself, why I am doing this? Why challenge a Republican with a national profile in a district drawn to ensure a GOP victory every two years?
Then Janz flew to Washington for training with other first-time Democratic congressional candidates. They were, Janz said, “hardworking Americans that had really normal jobs like teachers, firefighters and police officers.” Their enthusiasm inspired him. Janz took stock of why he had decided to run in the first place.
He remembered how his immigrant father had answered President John F. Kennedy’s call to serve others by joining the Peace Corps. He focused on his father and mother saving every possible dime so that he could go to college. He thought about the crime victims he works with. And he felt the power of the “deliberate decision” he and his wife, Heather, had made to live in the Valley after college.
Fortified, Janz returned home committed to giving the campaign all he had — regardless of how much money the campaign raised.
“I met all of these men and women who shared the vision that I had of truly representing the people and their concerns, not the corporations of America,” Janz said. “I came back determined to make sure that the Valley no longer is overlooked and to give it the kind of representation it deserves. Not just in my district, but the entire Valley.”
(To see where Janz stands on the issues, click on the video above.)
Into the National Spotlight
Heather Greven, who is managing the Janz campaign, recalled those rocky moments before Janz regained his footing.
“It was a trying time,” she said. “We had gambled almost all of our tiny war chest on a media buy, and we were worried we wouldn’t be able to keep the lights on.”
Six months later, the lights are on. Janz has a national profile and about $1 million in grassroots donations from all over America propelling his campaign forward.
He also has a fully formed plan that he says will enable him to beat the long odds and “remove Nunes” from Congress, where the Republican has served since 2003.
Essential to the mission, he said, is a campaign account big enough to “tell voters what I’m about and where I stand before Nunes tries to define me with a barrage of television attack ads.”
Also underway is the recruitment of campaign volunteers who will focus on turning out young and minority voters. The campaign is stretching its dollars by utilizing social media and showcasing Janz in mainstream media interviews. The candidate himself is going everywhere there are people, cameras or both.
Local farmers in my district are very concerned about these new tariffs. They’ve been unable to get meetings with Devin Nunes. Trump’s #TradeWar is hurting our local economy. #RemoveNunes https://t.co/Jwm5LKOw4y
— Andrew Janz (@JanzforCongress) April 2, 2018
Nunes: Liberals Set Their Sights on Me
Meanwhile, Nunes is trying to inspire donation to his campaign. He had $3.8 million cash on hand at the end of 2017.
“After more than a year of diverted resources and slanderous attacks from the far left over alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers, we’ve reached a conclusion about collusion: there was none,” Nunes wrote in a fundraising email, USA Today reported Sunday.
“Establishment Democrats can’t stand to see their one unifying issue slip away from them, so they’re desperate to keep their collusion story alive. Now, their attacks against me are growing stronger — extreme liberals in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., and across the country have set their sights on me and my seat in Congress.”
Often in politics, things aren’t what they appear to be. It could be that Nunes is using his these national attacks as a means to raise funds that he, in turn, will donate to other Republicans.
Republican activist Mike Der Manouel Jr., himself a former congressional candidate, said that it’s still too early to gauge whether Janz is making inroads with district voters other than Democrats.
“It’s like asking me who will win the National League West after four games,” said Der Manouel, a diehard San Francisco Giants fan. “It’s April. Come July, if Devin starts spending big on television advertising, that will be a sign that the race is too close for him to feel comfortable about.”
Despite Der Manouel’s cautionary words against early predictions, he sees no scenario that results in a Janz victory.
“I have no reason to believe that Devin will lose,” he said.
A New Breed of Valleycrat?
Clearly, Janz is attacking Nunes, the congressman’s relationship with President Donald Trump and what he characterizes as Nunes’ “quite bizarre” handling of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
These volleys are sufficient to energize Democrats. But winning over independents and Republicans will require Janz to convince them that he’s right on the issues that matter to them.
Toward that end, he’s trying to redefine what we often call a “Valleycrat” or “Blue Dog” Democrat. Understand: Many of Janz’s positions are more liberal than Valleycrats such as the late B.F. Sisk or Rep. Jim Costa. But on water, building Temperance Flat dam, securing a reliable agricultural workforce and banging the drum for more Valley investment from Sacramento and Washington, he is sticking to Valleycrat orthodoxy.
Democratic congressional candidate Andrew Janz says that he doesn’t want the support of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. / Shutterstock
Janz, however, has also staked out a position that reveals one of the essentials to his perceived path to victory — declaring his independence from Democratic Party leadership (as now constituted).
“I told them to stay out of the district,” Janz said. “We don’t need Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer or the national party here.”
Not that there was any chance of them coming to the Valley. In their quest to regain control of Congress, Democratic leaders have gone over the analytics with a fine-tooth comb. They are targeting resources at the districts that might most easily flip. CA-22 isn’t one of them. Their message to Janz: Good luck.
Who is Andrew Janz?
So who is this 34-year-old Fresno County violent-crimes prosecutor whose career goal before Trump’s emergence was to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office?
Janz says that he identifies with “Dreamers” — young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents — even though his parents were legal immigrants. He grew up speaking Thai at home and struggled in school until he improved his English. He worked minimum wage jobs in Visalia. That experience provides one of the guaranteed applause lines in his stump speech: “I’ve gone from serving burgers at McDonald’s to serving justice at the Fresno County DA’s office.”
After graduating from Redwood High School, Janz enrolled at CSU Stanislaus in Turlock, where he gravitated to campus politics.
“He was a couple years older than me but we became friends,” said fellow CSU Stanislaus graduate Andy Ward. “He was like the mayor of Stanislaus. He knew everyone.
“He is highly organized and not scared to hold himself and others accountable when necessary.”
While in college, Janz learned the nuts and bolts of politics. He organized voter registration drives and worked on campus issues. In 2009, he left CSU Stanislaus with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public administration. Then it was on to Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. He made law review there and classmates elected him president of the student bar association. In December 2012, Janz joined the State Bar of California.
‘It’s Like He Was Bred in a Lab To Run for Congress’
Defense attorney David Rowell of Clovis has gone head-to-head with Janz. Rowell described Janz as “an extremely competent prosecutor. He’s not a guy who goes for blood when it’s the wrong thing to do. At the same time, when it’s warranted, he can be a take-no-prisoners prosecutor.”
Rowell, a Democrat, attributes Janz’s political ascension to a combination of Nunes’ notoriety and Janz’s credentials.
“Nunes has done a good job of giving himself a black eye in the national media, and he hasn’t always done what’s in the best interests of his constituents,” Rowell said. “Then there’s Andrew. It’s like he was bred in a lab to run for Congress. He’s a prosecutor and the son of immigrants. That contributes to his nationwide popularity.”
On the campaign trail, Janz is intense. His supporters crack jokes. His campaign puts up billboards that mock Nunes’ tight relationship with Trump. But Janz wants to fix health care, keep guns away from criminals, and reduce the influence of corporations and wealthy individuals in elections. These are serious issues. He is just as serious about prosecuting the case against returning Nunes to Congress.
Ward, who is the head football strength and conditioning coach at Fresno State, says there is a “real person” side to Janz, however.
“He likes to play poker, there’s some comedy to him,” Ward said. “His job is so serious all the time, he enjoys hanging out and relaxing” at Fresno State football games and Fresno Foxes soccer matches.
The Gun Control Divide
Among all the issues, the thorniest one for Janz might be gun control. He knows that many Republican voters and some Democrats, as well, will mark “Nunes” on their ballots if he comes across as someone who wants to legislate the Second Amendment out of existence.
“I’m a gun owner myself, but I don’t want to take guns away from law-abiding citizens,” he said. “What I want to do is, make sure that we have policies in place that prevent criminals and other people that are dangerous to themselves and the community from obtaining firearms. I think the country needs to have a conversation and revisit the assault weapons ban and see if that is the appropriate approach to make sure that these dangerous weapons that were designed to inflict mass casualties don’t fall in the wrong hands.
“I also think we need to raise the age where you can possess firearms to at least 21. From a criminal justice standpoint, we need a universal background check system. That would be extremely valuable to law enforcement.”
But there’s no attempt to thread the needle on nationwide marijuana legalization, comprehensive immigration reform, cutting student loan debt, providing safe, clean drinking water to all, and holding regular town-hall meetings. Janz said he’s for all of those things 100%.
If I Don’t Perform, ‘Vote Me Out’
Like all politicians, Janz is making promises aplenty. I asked him a question intended to provide a yardstick for voters to measure him by should he win.
What would make you different from everyone else who goes to Washington and is seduced by the power and trappings of office?
“Devin Nunes should have done a lot more for the Valley than he’s done in his 15 years,” Janz said. “I’m going to hold myself to the standard of doing more. A lot more. I’m not a career politician. I’m not interested in just hanging around. I’m going to Washington to fight for working-class Americans and for the Central Valley.
“What I’ve told folks is, as a member of Congress, I’m going to be open and accessible, and they can come to me with their concerns. Folks aren’t going to agree with me on every issue, but they will know that I’m fighting like hell for them.
“If I don’t perform, then vote me out.”