By Emily Cameron
Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare) will retain control of California’s 22nd Congressional District in 2018 if the Democratic Party on both the national and local levels continue running campaigns in the style of Hillary Clinton and Jon Ossoff. How many times must we allow corporate Democrats to crash our car into a tree before we take away the keys? In Ossoff’s case, it was a $23 million vehicle—the battle over Georgia’s 6th district was the most expensive race in Congressional history.
Ossoff painted himself as a “Resistance” hero, a symbolic figure of rebellion against the Trump regime, a polished voice of reason; yet when it came down to the issues, Ossoff was no champion of the people. For “The Resistance” to demand the American people hand over hard-earned money to fight Republican corruption and then subsequently refuse a tax increase on billionaires is the epitome of hypocrisy.
Neoliberal Democrats use the threat of Trumpcare in their fund-raising emails and social media rhetoric to squeeze a dollar or two out of terrified working-class Americans but offer no substantive strategy to counteract the disastrous healthcare policy. Frankly, it is irresponsible and deeply infuriating to watch Democrats piss away giant sums of cash just to fall on their faces and leave poor people at the mercy of slime like Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.).
Activists in the party are not trying to take over because they are bored and have nothing better to do; they see a problem with the functionality of the Democratic Party, a party that refuses to “gamble” on progressive candidates because tried-and-true moderate centrism wins elections, but then loses elections with those same moderates. They are told to support bland Democrats and then push them further left on issues such as single-payer healthcare or campaign finance reform once they get elected, but we can’t afford to fight for those things right now.
The can gets kicked down the road. And if by some miracle a centrist Democrat actually wins an election, that person won’t budge on the issues because his/her pocketbook is lined with lobbyist donations—shout out to California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D–Paramount) in AD-63.
Valley Democrats could soon follow in Ossoff’s footsteps. Local chapters of groups like Together We Will and Indivisible exude an image of bold resistance on the surface but behind closed doors discuss the supposed necessity of courting moderate Republican voters for the CD22 race. It is a common belief among local Democratic leadership that centrism is the sword that will slay the mighty Nunes dragon, but whether they will say that in a public setting is another story altogether.
Centrist Democrats cite the voter registration statistics in CD22 to justify their focus on the center-right, but those same statistics rebuke their logic. Yes, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats (146,673 to 112,403), but there are also 83,453 registered voters outside the major two parties not taken into account. Historically speaking, registered Democrats in the district are unreliable voters—only 49,039 ballots were cast for Democrat Louie Campos during the 2016 election when 111,689 Democrats were registered in the district.
Of those 83,453 registered voters outside the Democratic and Republican parties, 66,152 are No Party Preference and 10,418 are American Independent; the latter option is notorious for sucking in confused voters who mistakenly wish to identify as Independent but do not realize that the American Independent Party is an obscure right-wing party founded by segregationist George Wallace. Even if one were to say that half of these non-GOP/Dem voters are conservative-leaning, that still leaves roughly 41,000 people.
Hastily registering new CD22 voters en masse to break even with Republican numbers is a noble effort, but reaching out to the nonpartisans and the small-partisans makes more sense given the time crunch.
Appeals to patriotism (saving our country from a Russian invasion) won’t work on registered Democrats who have already demonstrated apathy for the civic institution of democracy by failing to show up at the polls, and appeals to decency (Nunes shills for Trump and Trump is obscene) won’t work on center-right Republicans who hated the Democratic Party so much that they willfully elected a cartoonish reality TV host.
It is not enough to be anti-Trump, or in this case, anti-Nunes. Candidates must bring something concrete to the table—not a “vision” rooted in abstract, intangible wishes for the district, but a game plan of legislative action. Democrats as of late have not produced solutions; they have only stood against something or someone.
Candidates must think critically about making themselves appealing rather than making the opponent unappealing. What can you offer people as an incentive to leave their homes and fill in the bubble adjacent to your name? Seeing Nunes cry in a corner after a brutal defeat won’t pay their medical bills. A loose sense of justice against the Kremlin doesn’t feed their children.
How much more proof do we need that establishment Democratic politics do not work in the Central Valley? Amanda Renteria, former Goldman Sachs financial analyst and staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, failed catastrophically against David Valadao (R–Hanford) in 2014 in CD21. A million dollars from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and endorsements from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were not only unsuccessful but very likely the kiss of death to her campaign.
Emilio Huerta followed suit, with less cash but similar endorsements from President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Voters by-and-large are not enthusiastic about candidates with an inauthentic aura about them, and anything with the slightest stench of meddling from Democrats in Washington is political poison.
Let us examine the most-discussed Democratic candidate in the CD22 race, Andrew Janz. By virtue of having the most areas of his campaign up and running, Janz has secured himself as the frontrunner in the pack; other Democratic candidates looking at the race include Jose Sigala, Dr. Mallory Kremer, Ricardo Franco, Bobby Bliatout and Paul Vargas. More candidates might announce in the coming months.
At a candidate forum hosted by Progressives United for Social Justice and Human Rights (PUSH) in Visalia on June 16, Janz broke the one and only rule—don’t talk about Devin Nunes—about two minutes into his opening statement. In a forum intended to be a conversation on the issues, Janz played the “I am a prosecutor and Nunes is under investigation” card right off the bat.
According to Janz, his campaign is working “very closely” with the DCCC and already has been provided with logistical support for fund-raising “both locally and nationally.” His heavy emphasis on the need to fund-raise competitively to defeat Nunes was rather troubling, as he made no mention of the need for an intense ground game strategy to bring out the aforementioned tens of thousands of voters.
Thankfully, it is early enough that Janz can self-reflect if he so desires and pump the brakes before he strays into Ossoff/Renteria territory. Janz has not yet reached the point of no return, but if he or any other candidate wants to occupy Nunes’ seat in the House of Representatives, they should analyze the mistakes of other failed Democrats and try to learn from them.
Emily Cameron is a Fresno journalist with bylines in the Fresno Bee, the Clovis Independent, Central Valley Magazine and many more. Cameron serves as an at-large Executive Committee member of the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party and an Election Integrity/Voter Access issue team leader for Progressive Democrats of America in Fresno.