Political Notebook

Andrew Janz, back at work after 19 months of hard campaigning, takes a breath

It’s been a while since Andrew Janz had regular free time, and he’s making the most of it.

“Laundry was the biggest thing,” he told The Bee in his first post-election interview. “Family time was also important. My wife and I took a small trip the weekend after the election.”

Janz spent 19 months on the campaign trail in his bid to topple 16-year Republican incumbent Congressman Devin Nunes. Janz and his staff raised $9.1 million, and they spent nearly every cent. He was a guest at Hollywood parties and brought two rock concerts to the central San Joaquin Valley – while also campaigning in living rooms and high school cafeterias.

Some dirty socks are to be expected.

But now, after a week of expectantly watching Nunes’ 12-point lead shrink at too slow a rate to catch him, the 34-year-old is ready to reflect on his first campaign and plot a course forward.

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Andrew Janz talks about life after his campaign for Congress, during an interview at the Fresno Bee, Nov. 15, 2018. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

Janz has a new normal. He’s back to his old job as a violent crimes prosecutor with the Fresno County District Attorney’s office, but he brings a bit of celebrity with him wherever he goes now. People come up to him at the grocery store or at restaurants.

He stressed the interactions have all been positive, with no one acting as if it’s his funeral.

Which is good, he said, because it’s not. Though he plans to focus on his work in the short-term, his public life is clearly still in its infancy.

Politically speaking, Janz didn’t make it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. But he has his eyes on Half Dome.

“I have been asked to consider throwing my hat in the ring in a couple upcoming races,” Janz said. “I haven’t put much thought into that. My short-term goal is to make sure every vote in my race is counted. People took the time to make their voices heard, and it’s so important that they are.”

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Activism and political involvement are certainties, he said. And he has a lot of plans for both the city and county of Fresno.

He plans to support a candidate in the coming special election for the county Board of Supervisors seat vacated by Andreas Borgeas, who recently won election to the state Senate. But Janz was tight-lipped on whether that candidate looks him in the mirror every day.

Janz vs. Nunes

Janz announced his candidacy on April 25, 2017.

“I’m not a politician; I’ve never considered running for Congress until recently,” he told The Bee then. “Most of the stuff in local and national media has pushed me to get involved.”

Those early statements remained more or less staples of a roller-coaster campaign in which the Visalia native quickly found his name scrawled across televisions, computer screens and checkbooks nationwide.

The clean-cut Janz made for good TV as the public digested Nunes, who rose to prominence through his involvement with investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, crystallized partisan politics by coupling his strong support for President Donald Trump with fierce attacks on their perceived enemies – Democrats, the news media, the state of California.

Those looking to irk Nunes flocked to Janz in the way of tens of thousands of individual donations. He captured headlines for months as the anti-Nunes candidate, before splitting time bashing Nunes and building up his own moderate platforms.

Janz and Nunes still have not met. Janz has not called to concede or congratulate his opponent.

Most believed Janz had little chance of defeating Nunes, a senior leadership member who pulled in more than $10 million to defend his congressional seat in a Republican-leaning district.

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But Janz came closer than any challenger before him. He’s currently 8 percentage points down, but he believes the remaining few thousand ballots will shave that to 5 or 6.

“People said we had no realistic chance of taking down Nunes, but we’re predicting I’ll get 47, maybe even 48 percent of the vote,” Janz said. “You can never underestimate the power of activism, and wanting to make a positive change for your community.”

Janz said he had no regrets and would not have done anything differently in his nearly two years on the trail, saying his team “built one of the largest grassroots campaigns that I have ever seen in the Valley.”

He said he hopes that Nunes will take notice of the shift in his home district. “Hopefully, he will do his job, show up for work, have office hours, have town halls. I’m hoping for the best.”

The prosecutor thanked his boss, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, for supporting him as Nunes ads accused Janz of failing in his duties to the county while campaigning. Smittcamp even spoke out publicly against Nunes’s campaign, which was once chaired by her father-in-law, Bob Smittcamp.

Janz said he will miss his staff, whom he recently cooked dinner for before parting ways. He started with only one employee, his campaign manager Heather Greven, but eventually recruited several full-time staffers and hundreds of volunteers.

“People asked me how I kept going without getting tired,” Janz said. “It was the people I saw every day who supported this campaign. These are the people who really inspired and motivated me. I will never forget their support and commitment.”

The future

Janz said he hopes to parlay his good showing and the success of other young, Democratic candidates such as newly minted state Sen. Melissa Hurtado into further change for the Valley. He said he had worked with and supported these down-ballot candidates from an early stage and will continue to do so.

“This is just the beginning,” Janz said. “There’s so much work to be done to make sure this Valley has true representation. And I want to be a part of it.”

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Some of his priorities mirror his campaign promises: water, criminal justice and government accountability. But he’s also developed a number of hyper-local priorities in a short time.

He ticked off several points: Fresno and Fresno County need a plan to deal with a consistent lack of parks and green space; the city needs to hire more police officers; the county has a number of employees making minimum wage who need a raise.

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These sound an awful lot like campaign platforms, but Janz isn’t talking.

Yet.

The rumor mill’s top choice for Janz is the Fresno County supervisor’s race. He already lives in District 2 that Borgeas is leaving, and the special election process will get going in the next few months.

“I have been asked to run for supervisor, not ready at this time to make any announcement around that race,” Janz said. “It’s unfair to consider a future run until this election has been certified.”

Should Janz run, he would likely face Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau. It would be familiar territory for Janz. Although it is a nonpartisan office, Brandau – once a leader of the Valley’s Tea Party movement – paints a clearly Republican figure.

Janz could also wait and see. Should Brandau, who is termed out in 2020, walk into an open supervisor’s seat, Janz could then challenge for Brandau’s spot on the council.

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Andrew Janz is running for Fresno mayor. JOHN WALKER Fresno Bee file

He may just challenge Nunes again. His strong 2018 showing would likely frighten any other would-be giant killers away. And he could bank on a higher turnout from a presidential election, perhaps hoping to benefit from voters dead set on removing Trump.

Janz isn’t sure how much money he has left in his congressional campaign, but he doesn’t expect it to be much. Some local insiders mused he may keep some of his large war chest for a future campaign, but he stressed that this did not happen.

“The people who gave to this campaign didn’t give it so that I could save it up and use it to run for a different seat,” he said. “They donated because they believed in this cause and holding this member accountable, and we spent almost all of it.”

There’s yet another enticing option for Janz, depending on his patience.

The congressional districts will be redrawn following the 2020 census. Nunes’ district, which was created in 2012 and has always leaned Republican, may be a bit more favorable to a Democrat. Or it may not include Fresno at all.

Janz’s home could find its way into Rep. Jim Costa’s district in 2022. Janz’s moderate platforms mirror many of Costa’s. Both support gun ownership and above-ground water storage, and both shy away from many of the key platforms of California’s most progressive leaders.

Should Costa, who’s been in public office for four decades, look to retire, then Janz would seem to be a formidable replacement candidate for Costa’s base.

But that’s all just conjecture for now. Janz the candidate is gone, and Janz the prosecutor has only been back on the job for a week.

“My commitment will always be to the Valley,” Janz said. “I need to figure out the best capacity in which to serve. Right now, that’s as a violent crimes prosecutor. The long-term? It’s up in the air.”

Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics
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