The current president and his administration has fomented an impressive opposition in response to his ascendency. For one, there are the spate of community-led demonstrations and public assemblies that have risen to challenge the president, the voice of the people disputing its displacement in the national conversation. We also have the congresspeople who have emerged as household names in 2017, the ones who share the stunned countenances of their constituents, and actively challenge each new motion or policy attempt made by the present regime. Additionally, we have those who interpreted all of this as a call to arms, inspired to join the fray at the governmental level. Among this last group is Orange County resident, Iranian-American, and congressional hopeful Kia Hamadanchy.
The outspoken reasoning behind Hamadanchy’s ambitions have been central in the run-up to his 2018 election event, and he’s consistently presented a refreshingly honest and unambiguous message. From his Daily Kos article posted shortly after his announcement to run:
“I was confronted with a choice: Stand by and let this president and his agenda and his party drag our great nation backward, or stand up and push back. I believe with all my heart that our country is worth fighting for. And I am confident that the majority of Americans are ready to come together to uphold our nation’s highest ideals and save our democracy.”
As an Iranian-American citizen astounded by Trump’s administration and its ignorant bull-in-a-china-shop policies, Hamadanchy found himself unwilling to sit idly by and hope for the best, and now anticipates the midterm elections with readiness and a steeled will. Incumbent Mimi Walters is his Republican opposition in the 45th district, an investment-banker-turned-politician who has danced in-line to every one of the president’s policies and motions (including her vote, along with many other Republicans, against the release of his tax records). In addition, Walters does not currently live in the district of her candidacy, and has even denied multiple requests and petitions for town hall meetings. Hamadanchy sees a delineation where congresspeople like Walters represent a minority front of ignorance, not the voters in the nation he intends to serve. We are a country built by immigrants, and cannot effectively withstand a growing legacy of hatred and exclusion.
The Iranian thanks Kia Hamadanchy for responding to some key questions. Learn more about his journey and find out how you can help by going to his campaign website here.
The Iranian: What are the main Iranian-American issues you will focus on?
Kia Hamadanchy: First of all, part of why I’m running is to demonstrate that, despite the demonization by the Trump Administration and other media sources, Iranian-Americans are just as American as anyone else. We want the same things; we aren’t different in any regard. We want good schools, affordable healthcare, a clean environment, equal justice under the law, and an economy that works for everyone.
With that said, I will also fight the discriminatory travel ban, which disproportionately impacted Iranians, work to ensure the Iran Nuclear Deal is upheld, and push to make sure that identifying as Iranian-American becomes an option in the 2020 census, oppose war with Iran, and work to repeal the discriminatory changes made to the visa waiver process.
The Iranian: As the first Iranian-American Congressman, will you use that role to promote dialogue with the nation of Iran, and Iranian society in specific?
Kia Hamadanchy: I would absolutely use that role to promote dialogue with the nation of Iran but also to promote better understanding from those in our political system. When elected, one of the first things I will do is explore the possibility of leading a bipartisan delegation of Members of Congress on a trip to Iran to help further their understanding of Iran and the Iranian people. The Iranian regime has real and serious problems and has committed countless human rights abuses. But despite that, the Iranian people themselves are probably more pro-America than any other population in the Middle East. People in our political system need to have an idea of who are they are really talking about and the real complexities with Iran’s situation. Right now that understanding does not exist and has contributed to a number of misperceptions.
It’s also extremely likely that as the first Iranian-American Member of Congress, I will be looked to for leadership whenever anything happens in Iran or the rest of the region. I will also be able to help celebrate and promote Iranian-American culture and our contributions to society by serving as a sort of rallying point for our community.
The Iranian: What Iranian-American organizations do you intend to work with to enhance the voice of Iranian-Americans?
Kia Hamadanchy: I want to work with all Iranian-American organizations who will stand with me in this quest to provide a greater voice for our community. The Iranian-American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) has already endorsed me, and I have been working with them to build further support for my candidacy. It is vital to my success that I bring the Iranian-American community together and, frankly, I can’t do it unless I do so. Because at the end of the day, this isn’t about me in any way, shape, or form. This about our community, as wealthy, educated, and successful as it is, having inadequate representation in our political system. This cause is bigger than any one person.
The Iranian: Your public statement on Daily Kos was tremendously straightforward, and included statements decrying fence-sitters in the face of this administration’s policies. Do you believe that action-oriented congresspeople have the ability to rouse and empower the opposition? What can they be doing that isn’t being done right now?
Kia Hamadanchy: I do. I think it is incredibly important to be firm in your beliefs and stances. That is who I am and that is the campaign we are running. I am running against an incumbent Member, Mimi Walters, who votes with Donald Trump 100% of the time, despite the fact that our district rejected Trump and everything he stands for last November. The constituents deserve someone who will fight for them every day in Congress, but also will be accessible and accountable. That is what I will do and that is what all Members of Congress are elected to do. Too many of them forget that.
It is also important that we as Democrats aren’t just against Trump. We need to provide a positive vision of who we are, what we stand for, and why people should elect us to Congress. And it has to be based on something real or we’ll end up just like the Republican Party, who lucked their way into power and had no real substance behind their rhetoric. That’s why they have, thus far, failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and it’s why they haven’t really accomplished anything at all.
That last point I’ll add is this. A comparison you see often in regards to Donald Trump is to Silvio Berlusconi. And the thing about Berlusconi is the times he was defeated, it wasn’t because people went after him on all the crazy stuff he was saying or doing, it was because they went after him on the issues and the real impact it was having on people. Donald Trump is going to say and do all kinds of crazy and stupid and ridiculous things. And in many ways he does things to distract from what’s really going on. We cannot let these things draw us away from the devastating impact his policy preferences and choices are having on all Americans.
— Kia For Congress (@KiaForCongress) July 19, 2017
The Iranian: You shared an image in support of the recent “Banned Grandmothers” social media movement. Do you believe in the power of social media to sway change and affect public understanding? Will you be leveraging social media in other ways in the months leading to the vote?
Kia Hamadanchy: I absolutely believe in the power of social media. When I posted that picture of my grandmother, who lives in Iran and who Donald Trump is apparently scared of, it got a lot of shares and likes. I think social media is an important place to share your story, but also to interact with other people and to get them engaged. I plan on utilizing it often during our campaign. We want to communicate with voters where they are and in the mediums that they frequent. In many cases that’s social media and we need to make sure we use it to get our message out there as far and wide as possible.
The Iranian: In your interview with the Persian Observer, you mentioned that “As a community, Iranian-Americans have not always been politically engaged.” During your work in D.C., did you notice any important trends in Iranian-American voter turnout or policy preference?
Kia Hamadanchy: There are thousands of staffers on Capitol Hill and during my more than six years there, I can count on one hand the number of other Iranian-Americans I came across. This is partly because back in Iran politics wasn’t and isn’t seen as an honorable profession, and this is because most are not happy with how the government works in Iran. It’s also partly because my parent’s generation was trying to establish themselves in this country; coming here after a revolution, they were focused on trying to build a life for themselves, not on politics. I also did not have any role models growing up in terms of Iranian-American political figures. Our culture encourages you to be a lawyer, doctor, or an engineer, and that shows in how under-represented we are in the political space. Now, more than ever, is the time to change that.
In terms of voter turnout, both in my district and across the country we have huge numbers of Iranian-Americans who are eligible but are not registered to vote and have never turned out to do so. In the conversations I’ve had with many in our community across Orange County, there is not necessarily an understanding of the difference between a primary and general election. These are all things we need to change and it’s incumbent on me as the candidate to make that change happen.
The Iranian: You’ve mentioned in various places that your parents owned a small business. What type of business was it? Did you work in it? Was the business central to the family?
Kia Hamadanchy: My parents had a small business that they started where they helped people in our community become homeowners. And they were wildly successful, because they did things the right way and because they worked for it. I worked there growing up as did my sister. It taught me the value of hard work, along with the value of starting something from scratch and being your own boss. It also helped give me an understanding of why our system is skewed towards the interests of big corporations and not towards small business owners who should be the lifeblood of our economy. We shouldn’t make it as hard as it is to be successful in this country, while also doing things the right way. Part of what I learned from my family’s business is that we need to do something about that.
— Kia For Congress (@KiaForCongress) May 14, 2017
The Iranian: According to census information from 2015, Orange County’s US Citizenship percentage was lower than the national average by about 8 points. Does this affect or play into your perspective of, and conversation with, your constituents? Is there a greater concern and focus on this statistic in light of the immigration ban?
Kia Hamadanchy: This is a community of immigrants. That means my message of inclusiveness—and this idea that in America it’s not supposed to matter what your name is, where your parents were born, or what you religion you practice—really resonates with people. When I talk about America as a nation of immigrants, and that no one should ever be treated like a second-class citizen, people know exactly what I talk about and they agree with me. In terms of the travel ban, my district actually has the largest percentage of people from the original list of seven banned countries of any seat held by a Republican. And what that means is that even if you aren’t from one of those seven countries, you know someone who is. They are your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, and they aren’t seen as dangerous and the travel ban isn’t seen as doing anything to keep this country safe. Because they can see who the people actually being harmed here is and it has nothing to do with the national security interests of the United States.