Ep. 38 Andrew Janz, CA-22

NICIE PANETTA: This is the MidPod, the Midterms Podcast. I'm Nicie Panetta with Heather Atwood. We are two moms traveling America to bring you the voices of the 2018 midterm elections. Our perspective is left of center but our commitment is to country over party. Join us in our quest to rebuild trust in American democracy, one congressional district at a time. In episode 22 of the MidPod we took you to California's Central Valley to profile the race in the 22nd Congressional District. Devin Nunes is the increasingly controversial Republican incumbent there, and he has inspired a spirited challenge in this district from Andrew Janz, a Deputy District Attorney in Fresno. In that episode we bring you to the area's citrus groves and its farmers markets, and we speak with residents about the issues facing the area, and we take you to Andrew Janz's house where he cooked us a fabulous Thai dinner with his family. But in this episode we want to share with you the full version of the conversation with Andrew Janz that we had after that memorable meal. [MidPod theme music fades out]

NICIE: Well here we are after our delicious Thai meal and we're having just a chance to sit with Andrew Janz in the family living room and we're glad to have a chance for a conversation. So thank you so much, Andrew.

ANDREW JANZ: Thanks for coming out. I really appreciate it.

NICIE: It would be great if you could talk to us just a little bit about your growing up, your family, and how you, kind of, made your path towards public service.

JANZ: Well, both of my parents were immigrants to this country. My dad immigrated to the U.S. when he was a very young child with his parents, my grandparents, and he was one of the few young men and women that answer the call of JFK to go serve in the Peace Corps overseas and as many of your viewers and as you know, the Peace Corps was really designed to combat the rise of communism overseas by building relationships with developing nations, by helping them build schools and bridges and roads and medical facilities, so my dad went overseas and was stationed in Southeast Asia. And he was there in the late 1970s early 1980s, which is where he met my mom. They got married and they came back to the U.S., started a family, had me and my brother, and my family? Really simple working class. My dad worked in factories up and down the Central Valley, my mom worked minimum wage jobs and saved up money for me and my brother, Thomas, to go to college, and were really a product of their working-class upbringing. So I'm very proud of that and I think that it's important because I'm running in a district where folks have been sort of left behind over the years and this is a district that I grew up in, I went to school in. And my neighbors live here, my friends live here and we've always sort of been second best to some of the areas - other areas in California and frankly the rest of the nation. So I think that for far too long that folks in the Central Valley have been alright with having second best schools, environmental quality that isn't absolutely the best. We have issues with water and clean air. And so, you know, this is really home to me and I want to be somebody that can be a champion for the region, which I don't think that we've had over the course of the last 15 years.

NICIE: As we discussed earlier, we have citizen potlucks around the country. And one of the questions we always ask is about citizenship and if there is a moment in time in your life or a story you could share of when you really felt yourself as a citizen in this country.

JANZ: You know, I think that the proudest moment of public service that I've seen for myself personally is when we first opened up our campaign office. You know, I started this race with just me and my wife and my campaign manager, who is a friend of mine, Heather Greven, and we started this race with three people. And you know, there were many, many times over the course of the last 10 months that I've been in this election where, you know, we felt like we weren't going to make it because we're running against an incumbent with 3.8 million dollars in his bank account. And we know that he's going to spend it against us and we know that he has voter registration advantage and the proudest moment of my - of being in public service was when I walked into a room when we had our grand opening for our campaign office and the place was completely filled and there was standing room only, there were people waiting outside. People couldn't get in. And I've lived in the Valley for all of my life and I have never seen so much energy, so much excitement about any political race, whether it be local, state, or federal in the Central Valley. And it really made me proud because for the first time I think that the people in the Central Valley were standing up and saying that enough is enough. What's going on in Washington isn't right and us normal, working class folks are going to take a stand and I'm so proud and so happy to be the person leading that charge here in California Congressional District 22.

NICIE: So tell us about the left behind part, you know, if you look at the folks you went to high school or the folks you've known in this community for some decades. What are the things that are holding them back?

JANZ: You know, if you look at the numbers here in the Central Valley, our unemployment rates are sky high compared to the rest of the state and the rest of the nation. We have very high illiteracy rates. We have a very high number of students that start school that don't speak English as a first language. So there's a challenge there. You know, I'm actually one of those those people that grew up speaking a different language as my first language and I had to adjust and learn to speak English while the rest of my peers were able to sort of, move on along with their education. And I remember being a beneficiary of some special programs that allowed me to catch up to my colleagues. So yeah, I think that even beyond education, you know, I think that there's very much a lack of opportunity here in the Central Valley. As a prosecutor I see a number of of criminal defendants that really never had a shot to begin with. And by the time they reach me as a deputy district attorney, as a criminal prosecutor, it's really too late for some of these folks because they've been in and out of prison by the time they get to me. And I want to be clear that that that the people that I'm prosecuting are violent criminals that engage in very dangerous acts that threaten our community and the community safety and people in general. I'm not talking about low-level drug offenders that deserve programs, so I think that we need to figure out a way to expand opportunities for some of these folks. And that's something that I talk about every day as a candidate for Congress.

NICIE: We're from Massachusetts as you know, and we're moms, and we go to the supermarket a lot to feed our families. And I can only imagine the number of times I've gone to the supermarket and bought produce - lettuce, strawberries, you name it, that are grown right here. This is our first chance to be here and it's amazing to see the bounty of agriculture here in the Central Valley. Could you talk about where you see the challenges for agriculture here and maybe particularly touch on the issue of water, which we've heard a lot about since we've been in the district?

JANZ: So as I mentioned, I grew up here in the district, in the Central Valley, and we here are very, very proud of our agricultural heritage and we pride ourselves in feeding the rest of the nation. And many folks here in the Central Valley, including myself, consider growing our own food as a vital national security interest, so we have to make sure that we're able to feed our nation. So, one of the things that we need here in Central California is water infrastructure to make sure that when we have dry years such as this year - we're having a terrible year with respect to rainfall. And we need to make sure that we have the infrastructure necessary to collect water. You know, over the last six years we've been in a drought. We need to replenish our groundwater aquifers, which are being decimated. We need to implement new technological programs with respect to irrigation. So we need to work on these issues. I think that over the past 15 years, Devin Nunes's last eight terms in Congress, he's promised to work on these things and we haven't really seen the fruits of his work. So we need to make sure that we continue to feed the nation because it is so important that we grow our food here in the United States of America, not in China or South America or any other country, so you know, the farmers that I've talked to have been struggling with making sure that they have the adequate water necessary and also the adequate labor are necessary to make sure the crops aren't rotting in the fields.

NICIE: Yeah we've heard that consistently, that farmers cannot hire enough workers to help them get their crops in. Could you talk about what's going on with immigration in this country and how you would think about approaching this issue as a congressman from this area?

JANZ: You know, immigration is one of the top issues besides water in the Central Valley and people from both political parties - Republicans, Democrats, Independents alike, talk about the need to have a stable workforce here in the Central Valley that are able to make sure that our country is fed. And so I think that people agree that we need to have and figure out a way to have comprehensive immigration reform, you know, because I think that the issue of immigration here hits close to home for many people, including myself. And you know, we all just want to, at the end of the day, make sure that the folks here that pick the fruit and produce are treated fairly. I think that many times folks are taking advantage of - we see ICE raids all up and down the Central Valley. And it really hampers the industry's ability to make sure that their product isn't, as I said before, rotting out in the fields. And I think that the farmers that I've talked to, they all agree that we need a solution and we need to move forward. And, so far what's been happening in Washington hasn't been productive.

NICIE: Where is Representative Nunes on immigration?

JANZ: He has consistently voted against DREAMers. We checked his voting record. He's not a friend of DREAMers. But what was surprising for me to see was earlier this last year, during the summer, he issued a statement saying that he's always been a friend of DREAMers and I've been out there and I've been talking to DACA recipients and DREAMers - people that I have always supported as a person and a citizen in this community because, you know, these are folks that have been brought to our country by no fault of their own, people that have lived law-abiding lives. People that pay taxes, folks that have started their own businesses, many times folks that have served in our armed forces. So I've always been a champion for these folks and I will continue to be. I think Nunes, like Trump, is sort of using this issue for their own political advantage because my opponent knows that a majority of Americans all across this country support a pathway to citizenship for these folks. A majority of the people in this district support a pathway to citizenship for these folks. And I think it's really disingenuous for him to, sort of, now, after all that he's done, to sort of stand against them, claim to be a supporter. So you know, I'm going to call attention to that and I'm going to make sure that if I'm elected to Congress that these folks have a fighting chance because they deserve to be here. They're American citizens like the rest of us. We just need to make sure that the law recognizes that.

NICIE: What’s the impact on the community of these ICE raids?

JANZ: I can talk about it, I think credibly, from a prosecution standpoint, as a law enforcement official here in central California. I've had multiple cases where there were either undocumented folks who were victims of crime or witnesses to crime. I can also tell you that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately targeted for crimes because of their unwillingness to come forward and talk to law enforcement. So they're a huge target and they are victims that I fight for every day as a deputy D.A. here in central California.

NICIE: They're vulnerable.

JANZ: They are entirely vulnerable. I can give you an example of a case that we've prosecuted in our office recently where there were folks that had fake badges and fake sirens on their cars and they would pull people over in farming communities and target them, rob them, take their money and it was very hard for our office and law enforcement to be able to bring forward witnesses to these crimes, including the victims themselves, because they fear deportation. So I don't think this is good for America. I don't think this is good for the criminal justice system, so I think there needs to be a fix.

NICIE: Now, Representative Nunes is actually getting pretty famous here in America for his actions and his role as chairman of the House Special Committee on Intelligence. As a law enforcement professional and as somebody who aspires to serve in Congress, what are your thoughts on how how he's conducted himself and his role?

JANZ: I got into this race because I saw immediately that my member of Congress was an ineffective investigator on the House side in the U.S. House of Representatives. His job was to investigate Russia's role in their meddling in our elections in 2016 and it seemed to me from the very beginning that he was very unserious about the attack. You know, we saw today a tweet from Devin Nunes himself to invite Russian bots to spread his propaganda on Twitter. So I got in this race because as a law enforcement official I saw that the President the United States, I saw that Devin Nunes, who was on Trump's transition team, was really more focused on protecting themselves than they were in getting to the truth of what happened. And I also was deeply offended as a law enforcement official to see their constant attacks on the FBI and prosecutors all across this country. And I can tell you that I've worked with the good men and women over at the FBI on a number of cases here locally, issues related to guns and bank robberies and that sort of thing. And I know that these folks are registered Democrats, I know some of them are registered Republicans, "No Party Preference" Independents. It really doesn't matter what their party affiliation is over at the FBI. And in these prosecution agencies, at the end of the day we just really want to figure out what happened. We want to reveal the truth and our pursuit of justice is more important than party politics. We are putting country over partisan politics, which I think that Devon Nunes and Donald Trump are very unwilling to do. So I think that was a major reason why I got in this race.

NICIE: How has it been campaigning and how are those messages resonating with voters here in the 22nd who have elected Devin Nunes, you know, handily, you know, year after year, term after term?

JANZ: You know, a lot of attention has been called to Devin Nunes over his failings on the House Intelligence Committee and his failings have been called out by Republicans and Democrats alike. I know that Senator Burr, the Senate Chairman on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called out Devin Nunes for his fake investigations, his fake memos, his fake controversy over unmaskings. You know, people here locally are, I think, more concerned about issues than anything else. But I think that the Russia thing is important because it provides context because he is more focused on protecting Donald Trump and promulgating his fake controversies. He's more concerned about that than he is about the issues that matter to people here back in the district. And people are concerned about the issues that we talked about earlier - water and immigration and even beyond that, you know, health care is important to these folks. Public safety, counterterrorism, things like that. So I think that Devin Nunes is really doing the people in this district a disservice by focusing on the things that he is focusing in on in Washington. And I think that that we need to continue to bring attention to what he's doing in Washington because he's not helping us here back in central California.

NICIE: We talk a lot about country over party and we've been talking about a little bit in this interview. What's an example of an issue on which you would put country over party and maybe even break with Democratic orthodoxy, say?

JANZ: I know that there are a lot of Democrats out there that take large amounts of contributions from corporations and I am a candidate that has pledged very early on to not take any corporate PAC money. And I think that it's important. I think it's important because I think it sets a tone. I think it's important because corporations have infiltrated our democracy and they are buying politicians left and right. And I want to be someone that goes to Washington not beholden to the biggest corporations on the planet. I want to be someone that is owned by the constituents of my district, which is why I am very proud to have a very grassroots type of fundraising campaign. Our average contribution is about 40 dollars. We've had over 20,000 individual contributions and we're very proud of that. We haven't taken a dime from a corporation. So that's an area in which I've broken from some traditional mainstream Democrats.

HEATHER ATWOOD: I think I would just love to hear some stories from the campaign trail. Have you met anybody, you know, interesting people you've met, anything special that's happened out there?

JANZ: You know, there is this guy that - so every Tuesday we try to show up at Devin Nunes's Clovis office. It's his main office in the district. And there's this guy that showed up in a cowboy hat with an American flag, tight jeans, cowboy boots. His name's Randy and I was like, "This guy is a Donald Trump supporter." And I'm watching him and he pulls out a sign and it's like "Dump Trump." And I'm like, Oh my god. So then I go up and talk to him and he's a local rancher, farmer type that people typically think, you know, associate and votes for people like Donald Trump or Devin Nunes. And it's people like him that I'm meeting all across the district that gives me hope that people are excited about this race, that people are willing to put country over politics and just do the right thing in November. And I'm really excited to meet folks like this and I'm meeting folks like him, like Randy all the time across the campaign trail and it's really exciting.

[00:21:39] Thank you so much, Andrew Janz. We we really appreciate your spending time with the MidPod and making us an amazing dinner.

JANZ: This was an amazing interview. The best interview ever. [MidPod theme music]

NICIE: That was Andrew Janz, Democratic candidate for Congress in California's 22nd Congressional District. You can learn more about Janz and his campaign by visiting andrewjanzforcongress.com. Since we spoke with Andrew Janz, local worries over agriculture and immigration policy have become much more acute. Devin Nunes has been generally supportive of President Trump's actions to impose tariffs on various imports. This, despite the fact that retaliatory Chinese tariffs have farmers in his district reeling. A recent op-ed in The Fresno Bee was titled, "Mr. Nunes, show some spine on trade. Valley nut growers depend on you." And in a district that is about half Hispanic or Latino, Devin Nunes has declined to comment on the family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. He has literally said not a single thing in public. In contrast, his Republican colleague David Valadao in the neighboring 21st District has called the separations unacceptable and asked his constituents for input. Nunes seems to be betting that with his campaign war chest and his ties to President Trump and House leadership he can afford to ignore these calls even to respond to his community on these issues. Nonetheless, voters will likely be considering both of these topics when they head to the polls in November.

NICIE: That’s it for this edition of the MidPod. Tune in next Tuesday for a special episode about the history of the underground railroad and its implications for citizens today. And a reminder that tomorrow, June 30th, there are nationwide protests of immigration policy. Go to familiesbelongtogether.org to learn more. Thanks for listening and stay in touch. [MidPod theme music]

Eunice Panetta