By Iman Sadri
April 18, 2017
Kia Hamadanchy was born and raised in Irvine, California, the son of Iranian immigrants who built a successful small business. He received his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Michigan and then moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as a staff member in the U.S. Senate. As legal counsel for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under the leadership of education and disability rights champion Senator Tom Harkin, he worked to expose the exploitation of students by the for-profit college industry. After Senator Harkin’s retirement, Kia joined the staff of Senator Sherrod Brown, where he advocated for a higher minimum wage, equal pay for men and women, and other measures to reduce income inequality and ensure that every American is treated with the respect and dignity that he or she deserves.
Iman Sadri : What prompted you to run for Congress ?
Kia Hamadanchy : I decided to run for Congress the night that President Trump announced his Muslim travel ban. This was personal to me. If that ban had been in place when my parents sought refuge from extremism in Iran, the door to the Land of the Free would have been slammed in their faces. When the travel ban was announced, my mother asked me whether she should sell her house and move to Canada “because this is the not the first time she has had to leave a country because of the government changing.” I found her question heartbreaking. And my response was immediate: No, you will not have to leave America. We will join with others to win back the America that we know and love.
America was built by immigrants, for immigrants. We are a diverse nation where no one should feel like a second-class citizen, regardless of race, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other distinguishing factor. Regrettably, Trump rejects this vision of America. His governing strategy is a classic case of “divide and conquer.”
President Lincoln called America the “last best hope of Earth.” This does not mean that we are perfect. We all know that there are dark chapters in our history. But it was Tocqueville who said “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” Our nation made a tragic mistake by electing Donald Trump to the presidency. Our challenge now is to repair this fault. We have a civic responsibility – as individuals and working together – to fight back against Trump’s efforts to divide our people and degrade our democracy.
I am running to fight to make sure that each and every American – no matter where they are from, who they love, or what religion they practice – is treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.
IS: What would you be doing now if you weren’t running for Congress?
Kia Hamadanchy : I would be working as hard as I could to fight against what Trump is trying to do this country. As Americans, each and every one of us needs to do whatever is in our power to protect the ideals upon which this country was built. For me, I decided the best way of doing so was by running for Congress.
IS: What is the process like to run for Congress preparing for the election?
Kia Hamadanchy : Unfortunately the first thing one needs to do is figure out a plan to raise the kind of money you are going to need to be able to stand for election. The influence of money in politics has grown far worse since the misguided Citizens United ruling. I know because I’ve worked on Capitol Hill and I’ve seen how money distorts and often corrupts the political process. It’s gotten so bad that, as a prospective congressional candidate talking with groups that are working to get excessive money out of politics, I’ve found that they quickly dismiss you with words like “come back and talk to us once you’ve raised some real money.” What could be more illustrative of a broken system than when even folks who very much want to fix that system are forced to judge you by the very criterion that they want to change?
One also needs to put together a campaign team that knows how to win tough elections, build a policy platform that resonates with the people of the district, and come up with a winning message that is going to inspire people to get out and vote for you.
IS: Besides the Trump Immigration Ban what other issues do you hope to address as a Congressman?
Kia Hamadanchy : If I am elected to Congress I will fight for debt-free college, to mend not end the Affordable Care Act, to address the fact that the United States is the only developed country in the world that does not provide workers with paid sick leave and paid family leave, an end to discrimination, equal pay for equal work, a quality education for our children, for a smarter foreign policy that actually keeps us safe, and to ensure that we create good jobs that pay a living wage and offer good benefits.
IS: How much time do you plan to spend in D.C ? Versus in your district?
Kia Hamadanchy : Whenever Congress is in session, I would plan to be in D.C. to fulfill my duties as a member of Congress. Otherwise I would be back in the District as much as humanly possible.
IS: With the reputation Congressmen and Congresswomen have for not being able to get stuff done due to the red tape in Washington how do you plan to accomplish your goals?
Kia Hamadanchy : I think the key is to start by building relationships across the aisle that are based on mutual respect. One can have political differences with someone and that’s perfectly fine, you just have to make sure that you never make them personal. You should always stand for what you believe in and there definitely are issues where one should never look to compromise. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try and find common ground when possible. At the end of the day, each and every member of Congress is sent to D.C. to work to try and improve the lives of their constituents. There are so many issues that are not partisan in anyway and where we can get things done. We should never let our political differences get in the way in getting things done in those areas.
The other thing is that there is a lot one can do as a member of Congress that doesn’t even require you to pass a law. Justice Louis Brandeis was famous for saying that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Sometimes just drawing attention to a problem can be incredibly helpful and spur action to try and fix it. And drawing attention to these sorts of problems is the kind of thing that a member of Congress has the ability to do.
IS: Do you have a list of top three members of Congress that you admire?
Kia Hamadanchy : My top three are, Sherrod Brown, John Lewis, and Al Franken.
IS: What would be the most effective way to rally Iranian Americans to help support your election?
Kia Hamadanchy : My district includes a very large Iranian American community and I would hope that they support my campaign as much as possible. If elected I would be the first Iranian-American member of Congress and I hope that is something that can bring everyone together. This is about having a seat at the table and giving a voice to those without one. Having the support of the Iranian American community, both locally and nationally, is going to be critically important as I work to win this election. We need to build a unifying message that everyone can rally around. As a community Iranian-Americans have not always been the most politically engaged and with the election of Donald Trump, its time that we change that. If it doesn’t happen now, I don’t know that it ever will.
IS: What are some lessons and experiences from Tom Harkin that you can use moving forward with your election and in Congress ahead?
Kia Hamadanchy : Tom Harkin defeated more incumbent members of Congress than anyone in US history. He was a man who knew how to win tough elections in difficult circumstances. In many ways, his first election to Congress in 1974 was a race very much like this one. It was a district where Democrats had not won since The Great Depression and where he had to organize the students at Iowa State (the same way we will have to do with the students at University of California, Irvine) to build the kind of field operation he needed to win.
After that, he continued to win election after election because people knew he was someone who was in politics for the rights reasons and that whether they agreed with him or not, they knew he was there to fight for them and to try and make their lives better. I also always greatly admired the way he fought for the disability community, especially his role in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
He is just truly an extremely decent and good man and sets an example for all of us to follow, whether or not we are running for Congress.
Finally, I often think of the Hubert Humphrey quote he used to like to repeat as to why he was a Democrat. And it was as Humphrey used to say, “the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
IS: What is the key to be able to raise as much money as possible to run for Congress?
Kia Hamadanchy : We have to run a campaign that people believe in and that inspires and resonates in a way that allows us to create real grassroots support for my candidacy. This is not something I can do on my own, its going to require the help of people all across this country to build the kind of movement we are going to need to win this election.
IS: If you’re 85 years old and you’re writing a your Wikipedia profile what would be some career milestones you like to achieve as a congressman? And following Congress what are your political and career goals?
Kia Hamadanchy : When Ted Kennedy eulogized his brother Robert Kennedy he said “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” I’ve always been struck by those words and have always thought to myself that, when all is said and done, I hope that’s what they can say about me. And I hope that applies to both my time in Congress and once I’m done in office, whenever that may be.
You can contribute to Kia’s campaign and support his congressional run at www.kiafororangecounty.com
Follow Kia Hamadanchy on Instagram @Kia4Congress and on Twitter @KiaForCongress
Iman Sadri is the founder of @HollywoodSmileTV and @ThePersianObserver.