**The content in this section is paid for by the Central Valley Progressive PAC**
By Mike Rhodes
Valley Congressional Representative Devin Nunes’ role as a lapdog for President Donald Trump does not sit well with many of his constituents. As Trump, with help from Nunes, tries desperately to dodge allegations that his campaign team was complicit in the Russian interference of the 2016 U.S. elections, candidates are stepping forward to take back the 22nd Congressional District.
Andrew Janz, speaking at a June 16 Congressional District 22 candidate forum in Visalia said that Nunes “is basically pretending to be a local when he really now has become the epitome of a Washington insider. So, what better person to challenge this Congressman who is under an ethics investigation than a local prosecutor.” Janz is a prosecutor with the violent crimes unit of the Fresno County District Attorney’s office.
Five candidates anxious to have the opportunity to run against and defeat Nunes attended the standing-room-only Visalia forum. All of them are Democrats. Tulare County City Council Member Jose Sigala spoke about his deep roots in the area, connection to the civil rights movement, support for LGBTQ rights and how he was the only candidate in Tulare County endorsed by Planned Parenthood. The Central Valley Progressive PAC (CVPPAC) endorsed Sigala in his bid for the Tulare City Council, which he won.
Sigala said, “I was embarrassed to see that our President pulled out of the Paris Accord. As a council member, at the last council meeting I brought that up and said, ‘now it falls upon us, falls upon the mayor and the city, even a small city like Tulare, to do our part to clean the air, to make sure we can buy clean vehicles to transport our citizens, to make sure we do our best to reduce our carbon footprint.’ I believe it takes all of us, big or small, to make that change.”
All five candidates at the Visalia forum consistently took progressive positions on important issues such as climate change, healthcare reform, fighting poverty and the need to elect a representative that reflects the values of the majority in the 22nd Congressional District.
Ricardo “Rico” Franco spoke passionately about many specific issues but believes that it is our core progressive values that will take us to victory. He said, “When you start to talk about the things we all want, affordable healthcare, affordable education, help for our veterans, lots of good infrastructure around here so we don’t feel like we are leaving people behind. When we start talking about those morals and those values and we make it less about party politics and all of these catchphrases that anger people, I know that we can bring people together.”
Franco went on to say “that if we get back to our core values this region right here can shine and be a leader for the country. This is the most beautiful piece of gold in this entire state and it can shine for the rest of the country, not just to see who we are, but to actually lead and be a model for progress of what the rest of the country can be.”
Dr. Mallory Kremer talked about driving through the state and sees “that there are really two Californias. I see so much wealth and opportunity in the coastal cities, and in the Central Valley it feels like a completely different state. My vision is to share some of that opportunity with the Central Valley and to make it a destination, to fight the brain drain, to create economic opportunity, to have it be a place where people want to live.” According to Kremer, this can be done by “bringing medical schools to the Valley, improving education and the air quality. This will make this a healthier place to live.”
Candidate Bobby Bliatout is the CEO of the Greater Fresno Health Organization. Bliatout says that he started thinking about running for political office when he watched the attacks on the Affordable Health Care Act in Congress this spring. At the forum, he said that “healthcare is a basic human right. This country already believes that. I don’t care what anyone else says.
“Anybody can go into the emergency room and there is a law that says when you step through that door, they have to take care of you. They can’t take you anywhere else. So, we already believe that. To me, it makes absolutely no sense why we would try to yank away healthcare from these individuals. It would cost more! The ER is not the cheapest place to get your healthcare.”
The Visalia candidate forum was hosted by the Tulare County–based Progressives United for Social Justice and Human Rights (PUSH). This event was a collaboration among PUSH, Together We Will Fresno, Fresno Indivisible, South Valley Civics, the Fresno County Democratic Party and the Tulare County Democratic Party.
The CVPPAC has not endorsed any of the candidates in the 22nd Congressional District race. According to the group’s president, Pam Whalen, “federal campaign contribution reporting makes it difficult for the CVPPAC to give Congressional candidates money. The reporting is so burdensome that our group has focused on local and regional races.”
Whalen also said “there is nothing to stop us from endorsing a Congressional candidate, but it is likely that we will wait to see how things shake out before doing that. I’m just very impressed that there are so many progressive candidates willing to step forward and take on Devin Nunes.”
Another reason the CVPPAC focuses on local elections is that most members believe their limited resources are better spent supporting candidates running for local office. The millions of dollars it takes to win a Congressional race is not within the CVPPAC’s reach.
Many political observers say that Janz has the early advantage in this race. They say he has a good foundation of support, he is articulate and well-connected and, as a prosecutor in the DA’s office, can win over some moderate and conservative voters. The district typically votes solidly Republican. In 2016, Nunes received 67.6% of the vote against Democratic challenger Louie Campos. In 2014, Nunes won with 72% of the vote. The argument for going with a more moderate Democrat in CD22, one who can appeal to some Republicans, might work now that Nunes has made himself a lightning rod on the national stage.
Alternatively, an argument can be made that one of the more progressive candidates can inspire the voter base with a populist message and increase voter turnout enough to win the election.
The CVPPAC does not have a position on which strategy has the greatest chance of victory in this district, but one key factor will be fund-raising and getting volunteers to work on the campaign to elect a progressive candidate to CD22. Information from the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org) and the Federal Elections Commission show Nunes already has a war chest of more than $3 million.
Why should corporate lobbyists, the super wealthy and large (yet anonymous) out-of-state Republican PACs be able to buy Central Valley elections, subverting democracy and the electoral process? This is further evidence why campaign finance reform is so important. It is also a reason why more people should get involved in grassroots politics—to elect candidates who share their core values.
A video of the Visalia candidate forum can be viewed at www.cvppac.org. To learn more about PUSH, visit www.pushca.org.
The next Central Valley Progressive PAC meeting will be on Saturday, July 8, at 3:30 p.m. at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (1584 N. Van Ness Ave.).
For more information, contact: