Edgy Interview: Barry Jantz
Barry Jantz is something of a 20-teens Renaissance Man. Sure, he’s the current CEO of Grossmont Healthcare District and a former La Mesa City Councilmember. But what makes Barry cool is that he was blogging – and in a big way on San Diego’s Rostra and California’s Flash Report – way before blogging was cool. He’s been at the forefront of the revolution that is “the blogs” (kids, that’s a corruption of “web logs” as they were originally known). The fact that Barry comes at things from the right side of the political spectrum could get him labelled as a (dreaded?) right-wing blogger. But he’s not that way at all, always writing with decorum, decency, and humor. That’s why we thought it would be a good idea to put him in this month’s hot seat and subject him to the Edgy Interview.
Who shaped your thinking most on politics?
Many have influenced my political thinking. I remember a book by Jack Kemp, “American Renaissance,” that really helped “jell” the deeper philosophical stuff I was learning in a way so as to apply it to today’s politics. Yet, one of the biggest lessons wasn’t philosophical; and it was more an anti-lesson than a lesson. As a young La Mesa Councilmember, it was seeing one of my colleagues treat those who disagreed with him with such contempt and disrespect. That taught me to try do otherwise – oppose the other person’s belief or their idea, but don’t oppose them personally. To this day, I don’t choose my friends based on their political beliefs. Hey, just because they’re wrong doesn’t make them bad people – they’re just wrong.
What’s the best thing about the USA?
As a society we focus so much on the national level to define what makes America great or not. Yet, whether the president is fighting with Congress, some celebrity or the NFL may have little impact whatsoever on our daily lives. Our families, relationships, work, churches and local communities are what we experience and what impacts us every day. The best thing about the US is the way our neighbors and communities so often come together to meet needs. I was recently at a fundraiser in Alpine for the West Fire victims. Four hundred people packed into the Alpine Community Center, enjoying dinner and raising support. That night’s stories were about the devastation experienced by neighbors, but also about the hope that springs from being picked up and embraced by fellow neighbors. Those impacted are blessed by a Small Business Administration recovery loan, but the truly emotional blessing was in experiencing the local support coming from real people living around them. That’s what’s best about this country.
Which American from history do you identify with most and why?
Samuel Adams, the propagandist of the American Revolution. He was so involved in politics, it is said he pretty much let the family malt business fail as he didn’t have the time or passion for it (not that I let a family business fail). His writings and leaflets, sometimes anonymous out of necessity, influenced many on “Taxation without Representation.” Adams was one of the first bloggers, when you think about it.
If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?
Any one of the first four – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison. It’s often so difficult to recognize great achievements during the sometimes tedious moments of actually doing the hard work. My chosen topic for any of them, as Founding Fathers, would be if they even began to comprehend what would be the lasting gravity of the institutions they were forging. They certainly understood the importance of winning a war and forming a republic. Yet, in the daily moments of doing the actual work, did they ever think past the immediate importance of saving a nation? Did they ever think, “This will someday be considered a great historical achievement?”
What’s the most important issue facing your area, why, and what should be done about it?
It’s not just my area, it’s everywhere, nationwide. The significant increase in behavioral health issues, often connected to opioid addiction. These are intertwined with a host of other problems, including homelessness, broken families, and violence. Emergency Departments have the highest numbers of patients facing mental health crises than anything we’ve ever experienced. The inability of families and the community to deal with this growing problem is increasing dramatically. There is no simple or singular answer. Hospitals, communities, the faith community and legislatures are taking note. The discussion is taking place throughout the state and nation. However, government simply throwing money at the problem is not the answer, as it’s far more complex than that. The government may be able to help with more long-term community beds, for instance, but kids don’t develop mental health issues because of a lack of government-funded beds. It starts with parents, then crosses into every aspect of society, including cultural influences – and a lack of quality influences. Tell me how to change hearts and minds and I’d begin to have an answer to this problem.
What was the last good movie you saw? Give us a quick review.
Sorry, I’m a contrarian. Not a movie, a TV series – Breaking Bad. A superb multiple character study about someone’s greatest regret in life being so enveloped by his desire to leave enough for his family in the face of his own demise that he turns to the dark side to make it happen.
Tell us about your artistic talent(s).
I bombed at every attempted instrument – trumpet, piano, saxophone and drums. I simply didn’t want to practice. But I loved drawing and took design and drafting classes in high school, which led to something. A lot of people are surprised to know I started my career as a carpenter (a union one even!). As I was deciding that wasn’t going to be my life’s work, I got tapped to come into the construction office as a draftsman, because of my knowledge in the area. I’ve always loved writing as well and think I’m pretty decent. I love now to see my teenage daughter’s writing ability.
What was your favorite musical genre as a teenager and what are you listening to now?
In the 70s it was called Album Oriented Rock, but I always appreciated the music from five or 10 years earlier than whatever new stuff was on the radio at the time. My tastes shift, but lately it’s been great to listen to some things I haven’t heard for years – Van Morrison, David Bowie, early Roxy Music, the Stones’ years with guitarist Mick Taylor. And Jazz on KPBS 89.5. Or a more recent artist, Amy Winehouse. If it’s recent and living you’re after, Arctic Monkeys and Cold War Kids to name a couple.
First concert you attended and how did it make you feel?
I’m not sure I remember which was first. Again, it was the 70s. The first truly memorable concert was Bob Marley at the Sports Arena, a couple of years before he died. A friend took me, although I wasn’t familiar with much of Marley’s music. It remains one of the best concerts I’ve seen – 13-piece band, impeccable. It showed me that I didn’t have to know the music to truly enjoy it.
If you were a competitive eater, which food would be your specialty?
Chocolate. I trust this needs no explanation.
Favorite cuisine and where do you get it in San Diego County?
I’d say chocolate again, but it’s not one of the basic food groups, unfortunately. Do people really have only one favorite cuisine? Ok, lately – sushi. Banbu in La Mesa, Tabu in Rancho San Diego, and this little neighborhood place in Fletcher Hills called Ahi.
Favorite sport and why?
Baseball. I’ve loved it since I collected baseball cards as a kid – and I still have them. The game’s nuances are fantastic. People either get the slow tempo or they don’t. I’m a purist – I hate the designated hitter [ed. Agree] and I still believe the runner should be able to completely bowl over the catcher.
Which reality TV show would you most like to compete on and why?
Although thus far it’s only been on one season, Hunted, a show about two-member teams going off the grid enough to not be found for four weeks, is fascinating. Surveillance technology has developed to the point that those trained in it can nearly find you anywhere, no matter how careful you are. That’s the scary part. But, I think I could develop a pretty good plan to evade for a month.
Tell us a good story about Steve Baldwin.
Aside from introducing me to my wife? Hmmm, so many stories, so few I can tell. One of my favorites is when Steve was in the State Assembly in the mid-90s. Republicans had just gained control of the Assembly (which ended up short-lived). A local San Diego Union reporter of prominence (nope, not the name) went to Steve’s La Mesa office to interview him. When the interview was over, the reporter put his notepad and pen into his back pocket and Steve asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee. The two went into the kitchen and stood and chatted. Just two guys talking now, right? “So, now that you’re chair of Assembly Education,” the reporter quipped, “I guess the California Teachers Association has to treat you differently.” The response was classic Steve, but a tad too colorful, shall we say. It also appeared in print the next day. I still use this in media trainings and with candidates as an example of never being “off the record.”
Most people say they got a lucky break at some point. Tell us about yours.
After being with Kaiser’s Facilities Development Department for 18 years (far too long), I left in 1999 to start my own consulting company – no clients to start. My wife and I were in the lounge at the La Mesa Brigantine having a drink, celebrating my last day at the old job. Sitting at the next table was Grossmont Healthcare District Board Member Jim Stieringer, someone I knew through politics. He was intrigued that I left Kaiser and asked what I was going to do. “Consult,” I said. I seriously remember his face lighting up. The chance encounter led first to a consulting gig with Grossmont, then in 2004 to the CEO job, the best years of my career.
What advice do you have for young people starting out?
First, practice listening. Really listening. Not the next thing you’re going to say. A good way to practice this is to focus as if you’re going to have to repeat the person’s comments back to them in detail. Don’t let your passion for the subject cause you to interrupt or interject. (I’ve never mastered any of this, which is why I’m so aware of its importance. Second, no matter your job search or your employment situation, find some way to volunteer for something where you have a passion. Make the time. Stay connected to the things that energize you, even if your paid work doesn’t always take you in that direction. I recently heard about a friend’s son, very frustrated with his job search, who decided to do some volunteer work while he was in the midst of applications and interviews. That volunteer work turned into a job offer.
If you could now return to a place you’ve traveled, where would you go?
Although it was for two weeks at Christmas and New Year, given it’s so hot in recent weeks, being on a snowy ski slope overlooking Vail Village sounds really appealing again.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember who I admired: Mickey Mantle and Neil Armstrong [Ed. Bet you didn’t realize the first man on the moon’s name spelled backwards is Gnort Mr. Alien]. But I have no memory of what I wanted to be. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Name a living person you admire. Why do you admire them?
I’m afraid I must be contrary again and define “living” as “recent.” And, because this person could have lived, had they not given up millions a year playing in the NFL. Instead Pat Tillman left a football career to join the Army post-9/11, became a Ranger, and then died from friendly fire in Afghanistan. Most people are held back from pursuing their passions and their causes when it conflicts with the more comfortable, easy route. It’s our humanness. Tillman truly inspires me.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Not to care so much about whether people like me. Certainly, I want my friends and colleagues to like me. But, those I may hardly ever deal with or even see again – get over it, Jantz!
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
My wife Colleen and daughter Kayleigh, a family relationship built on our faith in God, and an enjoyable career that’s given me the ability to meet the needs of my family and also be directly involved in giving back to my community.