Three Democrats and an independent candidate are hoping to become the next congressman from California’s 22nd District.
Returning for a second attempt at unseating Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is Fresno businessman Bobby Bliatout, and he’s in the race because he once tried and failed to help Nunes improve healthcare in the 22nd District, as well as the nation as a whole. Bliatout, who since 2003 has been the CEO of the Greater Fresno Health Organization, a federally-qualified healthcare clinic, says he wanted to share his expertise with the congressman but was rebuked.
“He told me he had it all under control and they were going to have the best plan possible.That didn’t happen,” Bliatout said.
The experience left the would-be congressman feeling that Nunes was out of touch with the daily lives of his constituents.
“I wanted him to see what the lay of the land really looks like. I’m on the front lines,” Bliatout said. “It’s apparent he has no clue what is really happening.”
Profits and Politicians
The problem with America’s approach to providing medical care, he says, is the for-profit companies that dole it out and the politicians who allow it to happen.
“We need to be able to have people, representatives and leaders, who can stand up for the people against the companies that are putting profits before people,” Bliatout said. “I’m a big supporter of Medicare for all. It’s the most economically efficient means to provide healthcare to all Americans. And it’s the right thing to do.”
The idea of universal healthcare for all Americans is not a new one, and it’s been attacked by detractors who say the practice would raise taxes to pay for the scheme. Bliatout, who echoes presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue, says the money to pay for it is already there.
“The truth is Americans are paying more for healthcare than they would if we had Medicare for all,” he said.
He also sees Medicare for all as an investment in America’s workforce and as a way to relieve the anxiety created by our current for-profit system.
“Employers know their employees will be healthy,” he said. “Everyone knows they have a healthy environment.”
Promoting good health, Bliatout believes, requires more than providing access to healthcare. It also means ensuring our environment and climate are protected. In the Central Valley, these issues collide when it comes to water quality and availability. He points to communities like East Orosi, where the groundwater is undrinkable, and says the lives of the people there are worth protecting and cost should not be a factor in those decisions.
“Right now, some people want to go to war. How do we pay for that?” Bliatout said. “We’re talking about saving American lives every day, not just in times of war.”
The issues Bliatout sees as crucial to the 22nd District are intertwined, he says, and underlying them all is the narrowness of the local economy.
“We need a better educational system to bring higher-paying jobs here,” he said. “We also need to look at sustainable farming. We need to slow down the selling out of middle-class farmers.”
While Bliatout knows it will be difficult to unseat Nunes, who is seeking his tenth two-year term, he believes replacing him is crucial to getting attention for local issues and concerns.
“That’s only going to happen if the representatives in the Central Valley work together,” he said.
Bliatout has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party.
Candidate Dary Rezvani, a Fresno native and the son of an Iranian immigrant father, says he joined the race as his first foray into politics because he couldn’t sit by and watch the country slide into hatred.
Rezvani–who owns and operates an auto repair shop he started with his father while attending CSUF and later managed it while working as an accountant for PricewaterhouseCooper–says unease about a loss of cohesion in American society led him to challenge the incumbent.
“I ended up quitting in March to make this run against Nunes, because I feel our country is going the wrong way,” he said. “It just seems at this point we’ve seen an uptick in the amount of hate crimes, we’ve seen the division.”
Removing Career Politicians
That division, he says, goes well beyond the dark rhetoric of what passes as political discussion in today’s America. It’s taken over the process of ruling and stifling America’s growth.
“A government is supposed to be representative of its people,” Rezvani said. “Unfortunately, right now, no one is getting anything done. There’s a lot of infighting, even among parties.”
Much of the problem, he says, lies in the calcified tribalism of the two-party system. Specifically, he believes the 22nd District’s representative really doesn’t understand what life is like for most of his constituents, especially given his reluctance to meet with those he is meant to represent.
“It’s time to get rid of some of these career politicians are just collecting a paycheck. Nunes is just one of many,” Rezvani said. “It’s hard to imagine what it’s like for a normal person when you’ve been in Congress for 17 years, especially when you’re not present in the district.”
Investing in Americans
The politics of water quality and supply is, of course, high on Rezvani’s list of issues that need attention.
“The first thing that needs to happen is reinvesting in our infrastructure,” he said.
Specifically, Rezvani wants Congress to invest in ideas like making desalination economically feasible to alleviate California’s constant water woes.
He’s interested in practical approaches to improving the environment, such as funding to expand public transportation and laws that encourage in-fill growth rather than expansion of cities into surrounding agricultural land. He also echoes Bliatout’s call for improved healthcare and programs to bring more doctors and medical providers to the Valley.
Rezvani, too, sees connections between the issues facing residents of the Valley. Protecting small farmers, he says, also protects the environment.
“I truly believe family farms are going to be much more aware of what they’re using, because they’re actually breathing what they’re putting in the air,” he said.
Having worked for a major accounting firm like PricewaterhouseCooper has given Rezvani a practical sense of what makes businesses succeed. However, he couldn’t remain in that field while knowing there were more direct ways he could help find solutions.
“It’s a little hard to stay focused on management consulting and auditing when you see real change that needs to happen,” he said. “All the management consultants in the world could disappear, and it wouldn’t make a difference.”
He says as a member of Congress he would push to see corporations pay a greater portion of their profits as taxes to relieve the burden that’s been shifted in recent years onto the middle class.
“I get being pro-business, but at the end of the day, paying taxes is part of business,” Rezvani said.
But, the most pressing reason he’s running is to improve the quality of life for everyone.
“I wanted to focus on building a world I actually want to bring kids into,” he said.
Concerning Lack of Concern
For candidate Phil Arballo, joining the race for the 22nd District is also about improving the quality of life here. Replacing the incumbent, he says, is key because Nunes no longer cares about the issues people who live here face.
“I don’t know if I wanted to be a congressman, but it’s the most effective way to move this valley forward,” Arballo said. “There’s just a lack of interest, a lack of enthusiasm from our current congressman.”
As a lifelong resident of the Valley who has no intention of leaving, Arballo finds the lack of improvement disheartening and unnecessary. He believes he can do a better job.
“I have children I’ll be raising here for the rest of my life. I’ll be here for the rest of my life. I went off to college and came back, and nothing had changed,” he said. “I didn’t dream my whole life of being a politician, but knowing I wanted to do something in 2020, this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Arballo is also concerned the Central Valley isn’t getting the respect it deserves, and he sees our current congressman as contributing to the image of the Valley outsiders have constructed.
“Being here, being present, being invested in this community, it’s important for me to be proud not just of where I live, but of who represents us,” he said. “I see a lot of potential here in moving past Devin Nunes and really making history in 2020.”
As a small businessman working in financial services, Arballo lists economic growth in the Valley as one of the main issues that should be addressed in Congress. He also has a long list of concerns he says aren’t being addressed adequately by Nunes. They include issues such as healthcare, environmental protection and immigration. During the last two decades, he says, the Valley has been left to deal with these issues with little outside help, especially from the incumbent.
“There are so many issues we’ve had to take care of ourselves,” Arballo said. “Nunes said it himself, he’s focused on protecting this administration. He’s focused on his career. You can catch him two or three nights a week on Fox News, and he’s not talking about the Valley and issues here.”
What Nunes is focused on, according to Arbello, is selling the book he’s written about protecting President Trump.
“We know who his No. 1 constituent is, and it’s not about protecting the Valley,” he said.
Arbello holds a degree in political science from Fresno State, and sits on several committees for the city of Fresno.
Besides the three Democrats, a single independent candidate is seeking the 22nd District seat. Eric Garcia is a disabled former Marine and graduate student who joined the race to combat the division he sees among Americans, both in daily life and online.
“I am determined to be a voice for the people in the California 22nd district by serving the people to the best of my ability,” a statement on Garcia’s website said. “I will be loyal and strive to do what is best for the people of the (district), and as such will not align myself with any political party.”
The primary election is March 3, and the general election will be held on November 3.