Science

A series tracking five scientists who are running for office.

Phil Janowicz

Phil Janowicz, a chemistry professor-turned-candidate who says he has 'Solutions for Congress'

Phil Janowicz might have been your favorite chemistry teacher in college. His youthful enthusiasm, sense of humor and willingness to chat are all as clear as the safety glasses on his nose.

But this former Cal State Fullerton chemistry professor is now looking to form a different kind of bond — with the Orange County voters he hopes to represent in Washington, D.C.

The 33-year-old Janowicz is going after a big target: Republican Congressman Ed Royce of Fullerton, who was first elected to represent California’s 39th District in 1992 and is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Janowicz, a Democrat, announced his candidacy in April at an amphitheater in the heart the university’s campus. His chemistry background (and love of puns) are evident in his campaign slogan: “Solutions for Congress.”

Janowicz is greeted by his mother, Kathy Traverse. (Christina House / For the Times)
Janowicz is greeted by his mother, Kathy Traverse. (Christina House / For the Times)
Supporters including Janowicz's wife, Angie Janowicz, center; his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Dahl, left; and friend Mindy Chang. None
Supporters including Janowicz's wife, Angie Janowicz, center; his mother-in-law, Elizabeth Dahl, left; and friend Mindy Chang.

It was something he had been mulling for a long time, and the turning point came on Nov. 8, 2016. Janowicz and his wife were watching the election returns together. Angela Janowicz, an English teacher, was wearing her “Nasty woman” T-shirt, and the two were geared up for a Hillary Clinton victory.

But as it became clear that Donald Trump had won, Angela turned to Phil and told him he should go for it.

“Be the change you want to see in the world,” she said. “It’ll be our next adventure.”

To ready himself for a run, Janowicz reluctantly left his tenured teaching position at Cal State Fullerton. Jumping in head first was the only proper way to take on a challenge like this, he said.

“There were so many things I wanted to do to help in this community,” he said. “Teaching chemistry only went so far.”

But Janowicz said he would continue to think like a scientist — a habit that will protect him from succumbing to ideological rigidity.

“My mind can be changed by data,” he said. “Science will work, whether we believe in it or not.”

Minutes after he declared his candidacy, the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a statement that mocked his academic background: “Liberal professor Janowicz may hypothesize he has a snowball’s chance challenging Royce, but in the real world, he’ll find Royce’s support runs deep and wide in Orange County.”

Janowicz, who studied cognitive psychology at MIT before earning a doctorate in chemistry at University of Illinois, was quick to pick up on the Republican committee's code for “elitist.” He had his comeback ready.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a professor,” Janowicz said. “It’s teaching the next generation how to be good, functioning members of society and get good jobs to support their families.”

 (Matthew Gush / Courtesy of Phil Janowicz)
(Matthew Gush / Courtesy of Phil Janowicz)

By early June, Janowicz had hired a campaign manager, a communications consultant, a fundraising specialist and a firm to keep his electoral paperwork in order.

Janowicz has been critical of Royce’s positions on healthcare, education and the environment. He says at least 1 in 5 students in the Cal State system struggles with food or shelter insecurity, and many are afraid their parents could be apprehended by immigration officials if they show up for graduation.

“I’m so inspired that they’re working so hard,” he said. “We need a system that works as hard for them.”

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