About 150 people showed up Wednesday to a town hall meeting here to send a message to Rep. Devin Nunes – even if the Tulare Republican decided to skip the meeting and call its organizers a bunch of “left-wing” activists.
Organizers of “People’s Town Hall for a Better Future” said they were “a group of constituents” who only wanted a civil discourse about local issues.
Nunes – who has frequently been in the national news of late – was invited to the town hall, but his staff said he was not available, said organizer Julia Shatz of Visalia, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.
“We aren’t here to scream at him,” said Natasha Moiseyev of Central Valley Indivisible, one of the organizers. “It’s not a fringe left gathering of crazies. We want to get the facts out and speak respectfully. We are dying for a conversation. We have questions and we would like answers.”
Nunes’ office dismissed the event at a College of the Sequoias lecture hall as solely designed to make him look bad in the public eye.
“The ‘town hall’ is being organized by Indivisible, a left-wing activist group whose tactics, ironically, focus on disrupting Republicans’ town hall meetings and then posting video of the disruptions online,” said Nunes spokesman Jack Langer in a statement. “Seeing as Rep. Nunes is traveling out of state, he will not be attending.”
We aren’t here to scream at him…We have questions and we would like answers.
Natasha Moiseyev, Central Valley Indivisible
The event was hosted by Together We Will – Fresno/Central Valley and Central Valley Indivisible, and the costs were covered by Health Access California, according to organizers.
Organizers asked speakers to announce their ZIP codes to show that they lived in Nunes’ 22nd Congressional District.
The format Wednesday consisted of presentations – including mention of Nunes’ voting record and public statements – about health care, immigration and government transparency and accountability, followed by questions and statements from people in the audience.
Marsha Comant of Fresno, a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, said if Nunes were there she’d tell him “people in the district without health care will die. This is my question: Do you not care?”
Celeste Cook, 63, a retired teacher from Visalia, led a brief chant of “Not Nunes” as the elected representative in Congress.
Some of the most emotional moments came from advocates of immigration law reform for so-called Dreamers – young adults brought to the United States as children – to get legalized.
“These are some the hardest working, most bright people I’ve ever met,” said Alexander Flores, a University of California, Berkeley, graduate in English literature. “They’re scared ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will arrest them.” He said he’d say to Nunes, “Will you protect my friends? Will you protect my community from being torn apart?”
Jose Sigala, a Tulare City Council member elected in November, said the event demonstrates that town hall meetings are needed in a democracy.
“I am excited about the momentum that has developed to hold our elected officials accountable,” he said.
But getting support for them from fellow elected officials can be hard, he said. Sigala said he asked the Tulare council to put on its agenda an item about sending a letter asking Nunes to hold a town hall in his hometown. The council split 2-2, with one absent, so the topic won’t be on the agenda.
Will you protect my friends? Will you protect my community from being torn apart?
Alexander Flores, Fresno
Republicans have largely avoided town hall meetings on recent visits home. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, for instance, held one-on-one meetings in Hanford with constituents.
The 22nd Congressional district that Nunes represents includes Tulare, Visalia, Reedley, Clovis and part of Fresno. It’s considered a safe Republican district with 43-33 percent Republican to Democratic registration.
Last year, Nunes won re-election last year with 68 percent of the vote. He was first elected to Congress in 2002.
He’s been in the national news lately as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a strong supporter of President Donald Trump. But he stepped aside from a probe of alleged Russian interference in the presidential election amid intense criticism over his late-night visit to the White House to review purported intelligence documents with the assistance of White House staff.
Retired music teacher Carole Greening of Visalia said she attended the town hall event to send him a message.
“I want him representing the ordinary people,” she said. “He’s in Washington representing the richest people in our area. He goes where the money is. We’re the people in his district. He needs to pay attention to us.”