Doug Freitas, who grows almonds, alfalfa and grain on his farm in Lemoore, says he thought it was some kind of hoax when he got a phone call about hosting Vice President Mike Pence for a talk about trade with Mexico and Canada.
But it’s legit. The vice president will visit Freitas’ farm on the northwestern edge of Lemoore on Wednesday for a panel discussion on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The proposed trade deal was hammered out by the Trump administration to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement that had been in effect since 1994.
It’s one of two stops that Pence is making that day in Fresno and Kings counties; he is also scheduled for a campaign fundraising luncheon near Coalinga hosted by prominent farmer/rancher John Harris.
The Lemoore visit is being organized by America First Policies, a nonprofit political organization that supports many of President Donald Trump’s initiatives including repealing the Affordable Care Act, immigration reform and border security, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and tax cuts in addition to revamping the trade agreement.
Freitas told The Bee on Friday that he doesn’t know why the farm he operates with his wife, Julie, and their sons was selected by America First Policies. “We have no clue, and we’ve asked that question, too,” he said. Freitas doesn’t directly export any of his crops, but added that some of his almonds may be shipped abroad by buyers or brokers. All of the hay is sold to farms in California, “and the grain can go almost anywhere.”
A representative with America First Policies first reached out to him by phone on June 28. “When they called, I thought it was a scam,” Freitas said. “But the more I talked to him, the more I heard this guy’s tone of voice, I realized he was serious. And then he flew out here on Friday (June 30), reviewed the area and said this would be perfect.”
Since then, Freitas and his crew have been scrambling to get the place ready. “This isn’t a show farm,” Freitas said. “We’re a working farm, and we’ve got equipment everywhere.”
Freitas said the preparations are causing a few inconveniences on the farm. “Some of the people are kicking up a lot of dust; they don’t know you can’t drive 30 mph on these dirt roads,” he said. “But I guess we’re blessed to have the opportunity to say yes” to hosting the event.
“And he’s going to be out in Coalinga that same day,” Freitas said, explaining that he’d received a flyer inviting Republican supporters to the Harris event.
Harris Ranch luncheon
Harris Farms CEO John Harris said the luncheon will be at the Harris Ranch Restaurant and Inn on Highway 198 just off of Interstate 5 near Coalinga, but the time of the event has not been made public. “We are very excited about the event on July 10,” Harris told The Bee in an email on Friday. “Frankly, we don’t have all the timing details yet, but should soon.”
“It is the first time we have ever hosted a sitting president or vice president,” Harris added. “Over the years we have hosted President Ronald Reagan at our River Ranch near Sanger, but that was after he was president.”
Harris has for years been a prominent donor to Republican candidates and committees in California and across the country. Just since the beginning of 2016, federal campaign finance data shows that Harris has contributed nearly $212,000 to Republican-affiliated candidates and political action committees. But he has occasionally supported Democrats, as well. Among the political figures Harris has hosted are Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein; Republican governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger; Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kansas; Richard Lyng of Modesto, who was Secretary of Agriculture under President Reagan; and Rep. Tony Coelho, D-Fresno. “We have … hosted numerous major political figures in both parties,” Harris said.
The Harris luncheon is billed as an event for Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee of Donald J. Trump for President Inc. and the Republican National Committee. Individual luncheon tickets are $2,800 per person and available on a first-come, first-served basis, with additional support levels and meet-and-greet opportunities at $15,000, $35,000 or $70,000 per couple.
“It is a fundraiser, but generally open to all donors who support Trump-Pence,” Harris said.
Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319, @TimSheehanNews