PHOTO: Democrat Justin Kanew is campaigning in hopes of taking a seat in Congress.// RUSSELL VANNOZZI
By RUSSELL VANNOZZI
College Grove resident Justin Kanew hasn’t lived in Tennessee for long, but he’s leading the charge for change in Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District.
The 39-year-old Democrat moved to the area in 2016 to raise his daughter, Kaia, in a “family-friendly” region after he previously spent several years writing and producing feature films in Hollywood.
He’s gunning for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who is running against Aaron Pettigrew for the GOP nomination in the Tennessee Senate race.
But although Blackburn is no longer in the congressional race, Kanew makes no bones about it: he’s the antithesis to the incumbent and what she represents.
“I’m not running against Marsha anymore, but I’m running against the idea of her,” Kanew said. “You’ve got to look at where (people’s) frustration comes from, and that’s from not feeling heard. We don’t think our government is responding to us anymore, and the truth is, it isn’t.”
From the Amazing Race to the Congressional race
Along with his best friend Zev Glassenberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, Kanew appeared on Season 15 of “The Amazing Race”, and the pair later reappeared on Season 18 as fan favorites in 2011.
The two traveled all over the world, including to places like Brazil, Switzerland, India and Australia. Kanew said the profound takeaway he had from the experience was the commonalities he noticed between people of different beliefs and cultures.
“You go to all these places and realize that people are people,” Kanew said. “We all want the same things at the end of the day. We’re human beings that all want to be healthy and have some money in our pockets.”
Kanew recently completed a 19-day, 19-county tour of the state’s seventh congressional district. Following the tour, he said one of his interns had an important revelation about the district’s voters, who overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
“One of our interns said, ‘look, I don’t agree with how they voted in 2016, but after this tour of the district, I understand why they did it,’” Kanew said of the voters. “We saw people hurting out there and we had tough conversations. They want a change, and I’m going to be that change.”
Finding common ground
Kanew’s campaign is centered on bringing people together – regardless of party affiliation.
“We’re easier to control when we’re separated and divided,” he said. “When we find some things in common, we can get more done.”
He also believes in affordable health care, helping the poor and fighting for equal rights, and he said he’s happy to work with any citizens or politicians that are looking for “a return to civility.”
“I don’t care what letter is next to your name… I’m listening and I’m interested in what you have to say,” Kanew said. “This is not about how you’ve voted in the past, it’s about our future and the future of our kids.”
Kanew understands his relatively recent arrival to Tennessee and his lack of political experience could be seen as negatives. That’s why he’s taking every opportunity to meet as many people as he can.
“I didn’t grow up here, but my daughter’s growing up here and this is our home now,” he said. “This is a great community and I felt like it deserved somebody that embodies the spirit that we have here.”
He utilizes all forms of social media to get his message out, and he personally answers every text, email, message, letter and tweet that he receives, citing his commitment to authenticity.
“When I was on ‘The Amazing Race’, I answered every email, tweet, and message that I got, and I’m doing the same thing now,” he said. “That accessibility is what we need from our government.”
“The real dividing line in this country isn’t between Republican voters and Democratic voters, it’s between special interest parties and the people,” Kanew said. “The reason things aren’t changing is because the special interests have a hold on our politicians. We need to get politicians that were bought and paid for out of office.”
Kanew said he feels confident about his chances in the Aug. 2 primary election against fellow Democrat Matt Reel. Early voting opened on July 13 and runs through July 28.
“I feel pretty good about the primary,” he said. “There’s no substitute for putting in the time and showing people what you’re about, and I’ve done that.”
Should Kanew win the primary, he will face Republican candidate Mark Green in the general election.
“We’re going to be outspent, but we’re not going to be outworked,” Kanew said. “(Green) is going to have his hands full.”
Occupation: Writer/Producer of feature films and digital content. Former VP of Production & Development at National Lampoon.
Education: History degree from Northwestern University
Community involvement: Board member at Congregation Micah in Brentwood
Family: Wife, Nicole; one daughter, Kaia. Resides in College Grove.
Visit his website at www.kanewforcongress.com.