Politics & Government

Janz says it’s ‘highly unlikely’ he will challenge Nunes in 2020, eyes Fresno mayor run

Andrew Janz, the Fresno Democrat who spent 19 months and raised $9 million to grind his way within six percentage points of powerful Republican Rep. Devin Nunes in the 2018 election, says it is “highly unlikely” he will seek a rematch in 2020.

Instead, Janz says he is “strongly considering” mounting a challenge against Fresno Mayor Lee Brand.

“Despite what we did last year, this race is always going to be an uphill battle,” Janz said of the congressional race with Nunes in an interview Monday with The Bee. “This is a difficult seat to win.”

Janz said that even though he raised more than any other Democratic House challenger and won over 14 percent of the district’s Republican voters en route to giving Nunes his closest race ever, a victory in the conservative 22nd District would require a sizable investment of time and resources by both a challenger and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Janz said he met with the DCCC last week in Washington, D.C., and the two sides reached an agreement on the future of Nunes’ district and Janz’s candidacy.

“The Democrats would have to form an ongoing relationship with the district over months and years, sort of like they did in Orange County in 2018,” Janz said. “It would take significant resources, and that may not be possible in 18 months.”

Janz pledged his support to the DCCC for whichever Democrat makes it out of the primary, he said.

The DCCC declined to comment for this story.

Mayoral campaign?

Janz said he’s spent the last few weeks actively exploring a City Hall challenge.

During that time, he’s met with community groups, public safety and trade unions, developers and local leaders including Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, Councilman Nelson Esparza and Henry R. Perea, a former councilman, county supervisor and runner-up to Brand in the 2016 mayoral race.

“The general consensus in these meetings is there’s no leadership at City Hall,” Janz said. “And for that reason, I am strongly considering running for mayor.”

Janz, who lives in northwest Fresno, said the city has regressed in a number of key issues under Brand: Green space and parks, public safety, economic growth, support of the state’s high-speed rail project and poverty.

“The majority of Fresno residents favored a parks measure, which (Brand) opposed from the beginning,” Janz said. “The mayor led from behind on this issue, then said he would bring people together to help fix parks and public safety and hasn’t done it.”

Reached for a comment, Brand issued a statement Monday night:

“The beauty of our democracy is that anyone can throw their hat into the ring. I firmly believe that my track record as Mayor and 8 years as Councilmember is a formidable base for my re-election campaign and I look forward to a robust debate with any and all opponents on the issues that impact our community.”

Fresno Mayor Lee Brand Vida en el Valle file

Meet with Swearengin

Janz said he will meet this week with former mayor and Central Valley Community Foundation CEO Ashley Swearengin and the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.

The Swearengin meeting is of particular intrigue, as she has tried to not publicly oppose her successor. However, Swearengin and Brand were clearly at odds over the parks measure, which was supported by the Central Valley Community Foundation.

Janz was very complimentary of the former mayor, saying he admired her leadership style and that she put Fresno on a larger stage statewide and nationally.

Central Valley Community Foundation CEO Ashley Swearengin Fresno Bee file

Swearengin said Tuesday she had plans to meet with Janz on Wednesday, but she was not aware of Janz’s potential mayoral bid.

Janz asked for a meeting while running for Congress, Swearengin said, but she only agreed to meet him after his candidacy concluded.

This will be their first meeting, she added.

“I am not involved in local politics except for initiatives sponsored by the foundation, such as Measure P,” Swearengin said. “I have no plan to be involved in local electoral politics any time soon.”

Her only goal is to lead the foundation’s community efforts, she said.

“I appreciate his passion for the community,” Swearengin said of Janz.

Swearengin said she called Brand on Tuesday morning to clarify that she is not involved in any local political campaigns, adding that “we both know that once you’re in City Hall, there are constant rumors.”

Esparza, who won election in District 7 in 2018, said he and Janz had been friends for some time prior to each man’s entry into politics. He confirmed that he had an official meeting with Janz in which Janz asked for his support in the upcoming mayoral race.

Esparza said this was the only request he’s had from a potential candidate (including the incumbent) for mayor in 2020.

“I’m inclined to support him, but I’m open to have other conversations,” Esparza said.

The councilman stopped short of directly criticizing Brand, but he welcomed any and all strong candidates. He said the city needed a mayor with “the political courage and the political will” to move forward and not “just get along for the sake of it.”

Soria, Perea weighing options

Soria, who has spent the last four years on the council, said the mayor’s office has “lacked leadership in regards to green space, housing and jobs,” which have led to a decline in quality of life within the city.

She confirmed she met with Janz a few weeks ago. And she, like Esparza, said the more strong candidates, the better.

Soria said she has also been asked to run for mayor and is weighing her options.

Then-Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea and Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria at an August 2016 event. Vida en el Valle file

Perea is having conversations about a possible rematch, as well, he said, saying that it’s too early to decide either way.

He said he spoke to Janz a few times about a month ago.

“I believe he would be a strong candidate if he could run as well in north Fresno as he did in 2018,” Perea said. Janz pulled in around 40 percent of the vote in several northern precincts, where turnout and Republican fervor burns hotter than other parts of the city.

Perea said voter registration in the southern parts of Fresno, which lean more Democratic, has improved since he lost by about 3 percentage points in 2016. He added that a Democratic “Blue Wave” was also coming for the presidency in 2020, which should impact local races down on the ballot.

Should Janz decide to enter the mayor’s race, he would clearly face long odds.

Since Fresno adopted the strong-mayor system in 1993, no incumbent mayor has lost a re-election bid.

The upcoming election will also be the first in which mayoral candidates could raise money prior to the election year. Many of the groups Janz is meeting with – developers, public safety groups, building unions – have already dumped thousands into Brand’s re-election campaign. Brand has more than $400,000 in the bank.

Janz said there was no timetable for his campaign decisions.

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.