Andrew Janz is worried about the American Dream.
The 34-year-old, who is taking on Rep. Devin Nunes this November in the midterm elections as the Democratic challenger, says he wants to preserve the ideals that made this country a bastion of freedom and offered his family a pathway to success.
He wants, he says, to be the man his parents–and this nation and its ideals–have offered him the chance to be.
Coming to America
Janz is the son of two immigrants. His father is the Canadian-born son of parents who left Germany to escape the post-WWII chaos and who eventually settled in the US. His mother was born and raised in Thailand.
As a young man, Janz’ father opted for a period of service in the US Peace Corps, and it was while stationed in Southeast Asia he met his future wife. The couple–Dirk and Sirigun–wanted to give the family they would one day raise the greatest range of possible options for their future. It came down to one single and obvious choice.
“They decided the United States was the best place to raise a family,” Janz said. “It still is.”
But, it may not be that way for long, Janz fears.
“What used to be the American Dream is at risk,” he said. “I want to make sure the same opportunities that were afforded to my parents and to me are protected for future generations.”
A Man to Admire
When asked to name people he admires, Janz mentions Abraham Lincoln first. Then, he talks about his dad.
“Him being in the Peace Corps and committing his early adult life to serving the country and forging relationships with others around the world, that was something that I always admired in him and something I wanted to replicate in my own way,” Janz said.
The idea of public service as a way of life came early to Janz, who decided while a student at Redwood High School in Visalia, where the young family eventually put down roots. A degree in economics, Janz decided, would be an ideal launch platform for his career as an attorney. Along the way, he also picked up a master’s in public administration at Cal State Stanislaus, before taking his law degree at the Southwestern School of Law at Los Angeles.
His ideal education complete, and a few years experience as a legal research assistant to a California Court of Appeals justice and clerk to a district judge in Nevada under his belt, Janz returned to the Valley–he lives with wife Heather and works as a prosecutor for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office–to pursue his dream of making a difference. His run for federal office is a continuation of that dream.
Janz hopes he’s not too late.
“We are moving away from that,” he said. “We are isolating ourselves from the world and instead of building bridges, we’re talking about building walls.”
A Social Safety Net
When Janz’ grandparents left Germany to escape the utter destruction left in the wake of World War II, the poverty, the degradation and hopelessness, what they sought was a haven. The family found it here.
Now, their grandson believes our president–and by extension Nunes, who served on Trump’s transition team and has repeatedly found himself at the center of national controversy–is undermining that sense of America as a sanctuary and global stalwart of democracy.
“I see this administration chipping away at what has traditionally been the US role in the world, which is sort of the beacon of hope for people,” Janz said.
However the true appeal of America, says Janz, the quality that drew his family here, is the idea our citizens look out for one another. The sense of an obligation to care for our fellow citizens, he says, is best exemplified by the political party his grandparents and then parents joined when they arrived on US soil.
“That’s why I’m a Democrat,” he said, “and that’s what Democrats have traditionally been champion for, making sure that we protect our obligations to our neighbors and our communities.”
Not Red v Blue
While he’s a lifelong Democrat, Janz is still willing to call out his own party for its role in creating today’s America. His website calls out “corrupt politicians from both sides of the aisle” for what they have done to keep the Central Valley locked in poverty, polluted and largely outside looking in.
Nunes, he says, has ignored constituents and their problems, instead focusing efforts on aiding Donald Trump in his attempts to stifle the bipartisan congressional investigation into any connections between Russian agents and Trump’s presidential campaign. What matters to the voters here, Janz says, are more jobs, more water and strengthening our country’s social supports. Those, he says, are issues that should concern all voters in the 22nd District no matter their affiliation.
“I’ve been very upfront and honest with voters that it’s not a red-vs-blue race. It’s a race about the issues,” Janz said. “Nunes isn’t talking about any of his positions. He hasn’t even put out a ballot statement. We can’t support someone who does that.”
No More Outside Corporate Influence
The race for the 22nd Congressional District is perhaps the most watched midterm in the nation given Nunes’ recent ability to attract unflattering attention to himself and the Central Valley. Nunes is also drawing outside money and the pull it can buy. Much of Nunes funding comes from donors with no presence in the district.
As of the end of June, Nunes raised more than twice what the Janz campaign bought in. Nunes has also outspent the Democrat, putting nearly $4.5 million into his seventh reelection campaign. Janz has spent just a bit over $1.7 million in the same time frame.
Those numbers, however, don’t reveal how the voters who will make the decision on who will represent them really feel. When it comes to raising money inside the boundaries of the 22nd District, Janz is way out ahead.
“It’s astonishing I’ve been able to out-raise him in the district,” he said. “I think that speaks to the support we have here on the ground, and even beyond that. I take a greater percentage of my donations from within the district than he does.”
Janz also refuses to take corporate donations. Once you’re bought, he says, you have to stay that way.
“I think that’s the wrong approach,” said Janz. “When you take that money, you’re beholden to them. You have to keep voting a certain way to make sure that money keeps coming in.”
The average contribution to the Janz campaign is just $19.
“We are No. 3 in the nation (in fundraising). So, this shows you don’t need corporate money to run a viable, successful campaign,” Janz said. “And, I’ve been very honest with my supporters that I’m going to continue to not take this money, even if it’s to my detriment.”
‘The Right Thing for the Country’
As American politics have taken on an increasingly bitter tone over the last decades, it’s become common practice for commentators and observers to assign labels such as “conservative” and “progressive” to politicians and their supporters. If Janz is going to win in this traditionally Republican stronghold, he must shatter those illusions and destroy those false narratives. His first step has been avoiding being placed in a pigeonhole.
“I get asked all the time what am I in the political spectrum,” he said. “I’m going to leave that up to the voters. I’ll let you make that determination.”
Party affiliation, he says, is far less important than a politician’s stance on issues of concern to his constituency. Janz repeats that message often as he attempts to capitalize on growing dissatisfaction among Republican voters nationwide and at home.
“We do events where we invite people of all political stripes to attend,” he said. “I go to Rotary Club meetings, Lions Club meetings, places where Republicans traditionally go. This isn’t a race where we’re just targeting Democrats.”
Because many of his stances match many of those of voters who call themselves conservative, Janz says they’re receptive and supportive of him.
“That’s indicative of what’s happening all over the place,” he said. “I have a ton of farmers who are supporting me. So, it’s happening.”
He’s also making inroads with local GOP leaders, a reuniting of political adversaries that mimics the pre-Trump era.
“There are elected officials who are coming around in the end,” Janz said. “(It’s) very evident people like (Sen. John) McCain and (President Barack) Obama were able to at times put aside their partisan differences and do the right thing for the country.”
Right Thing for the Valley
Potential voters also seem to feel Janz should be their congressman. At the end of June, polling showed Janz trailing by 8 points among likely voters. Two months later, Janz is only 5 points behind and gaining ground.
Perhaps Nunes’ return to the national spotlight is pushing his former supporters to the Janz campaign. In July, Nunes made headlines for his lavish spending of donors’ contributions on items such as limos, court-side basketball tickets, lavish dinners and posh hotels. Last week, he was in the spotlight again as he made an unannounced trip to England, apparently in an attempt to interview those responsible for the so-called Steele Memo, a report on possible influence Russia may hold over Trump.
It could also be the fact the Democrats are spending money on a race here for the first time in living memory.
“There’s a lot of folks who haven’t voted for Democrats in years in Tulare County, but that’s because the Demos haven’t fielded a real candidate,” Janz said.
That’s different now. Janz and his supporters believe he’s the real thing.