Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump swept through the central San Joaquin Valley in a few hours Tuesday, scooping up a record amount of money at a Tulare fundraiser and briefly talking water with a largely agricultural crowd who paid between $2,700 and $25,000 per person to attend.
For all its speed, Trump’s visit left Rep. Devin Nunes impressed with the candidate’s grasp of the water issue’s importance to the Valley and its agriculturally based economy.
“It was good. It went well. I thought he did a great job,” Nunes said, reviewing an event that was closed to the public and press.
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Nunes, the Tulare Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee and helped organize Tuesday’s event, reiterated that he thinks Trump has a good grasp of the water issue. He called him “our best chance to improve the water situation here in the Valley, and he is certainly better than any of the other candidates” as well as President Barack Obama and even some previous candidates.
“This stuff is complicated,” Nunes said. “But (Trump) understands construction projects.”
Nunes ended up getting prime time with the Republican nominee, though he did not plan on it.
Nunes went to the Bay Area on Monday to brief Trump in preparation for the fundraiser. He had planned to drive back to Tulare on Monday night and then meet Trump at the airport, but Trump invited him to come along on his jet flight to Los Angeles, where he spent Monday night.
Nunes said he stayed in a hotel at the airport while Trump was elsewhere, but the extra time on the plane Monday and Tuesday morning gave Nunes additional opportunity to brief Trump on water and immigration, another key concern of farmers.
He told Trump how over the past 25 years more water has been diverted from rivers in the Valley to the ocean to help the Delta smelt, an endangered fish, and yet its population is still declining. Trump asked why more water keeps going to the ocean when it is not helping the smelt. Nunes said that is a question for the president to ask his Interior Department.
Nunes said the fundraiser, which was attended by 250, will end up generating $1.3 million and maybe more for Trump’s campaign – a record for a political event in the Valley, if it holds true.
Another person who attended was Michael der Manouel Jr., a Fresno insurance company owner and active Republican. A Trump delegate to the GOP’s national convention, der Manouel said Trump’s remarks were “brief and to the point.
“If he wins, I believe we will see the necessary changes in federal water policy we need to sustain our ag economy into the future,” der Manouel said.
Also attending were former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The visit was quick: Trump landed in his 757 jetliner, with his name emblazoned on the side, at Fresno Yosemite International Airport at 11:45 a.m. He hustled into a waiting SUV, then rode in a motorcade to the home of Corky and Betty Anderson. He was there for just over an hour before rushing back to Fresno and departing at 2:40 p.m. to the next event on his schedule.
On Wednesday Trump is to give a major speech in Arizona on immigration. Nunes got a preview and, while not divulging details so as not to take attention from Trump, said “the Valley will be impressed with his speech.”
Support and protest
The Andersons’ ranch home is on Cartmill Avenue near the intersection with Hillman Street. Some drivers going by on Hillman honked or gave thumbs-up or rolled down the windows and shouted a few words of support for the few protesters on hand.
Demonstrators lined Cartmill from Highway 99 to near the Anderson ranch, where police had a blockade, as Trump’s motorcade passed by.
Tulare resident Frank Ralls was sitting in a chair at the southeast corner of Cartmill and Hillman after police kicked him off the southwest corner, closest to the Andersons’ home. Cartmill was closed to traffic, and both Tulare police and Tulare County sheriff’s deputies kept anyone from approaching the ranch home.
“I was surprised when I woke up this morning and heard Donald Trump was going to be in Tulare,” Ralls said.
Ralls figured out the location by adding up hints that he found online and in the newspaper.
He then got a lawn chair and came out to the corner where he displayed a homemade sign – “if Trump wins America loses” on one side and “Trump made America hate again – dump the Trump” on the other side.
Tulare resident Maria Grijalva was out running errands when she saw the sign as she was driving by, and had to stop and shake Ralls’ hand.
“I said, ‘Good, we have one (protester).’ ” She took a picture of Ralls.
Visalia resident Becky Quintana knew she would be coming out to protest Trump, so she wore her Obama-Biden T-shirt under another blouse at work, and then took off the outer shirt as she came out to the site during her lunch break.
“I don’t want him (Trump) to be elected,” she said. “I have some Republican friends, and he doesn’t even support their values.”
Across the street from the anti-Trump group were a half-dozen supporters including Suzette Yoshida of Visalia, a nurse at Kaweah Delta Medical Center.
Holding a sign that read “Trump heal the world,” Yoshida said she supports him because he stands for change.
She predicts “quiet supporters” will vote for Trump when they step into the election booth.
“Just see how Tulare has supported him,” she says, noting the line of cars waiting to get into the event before Trump’s arrival around 12:45 p.m.
Yoshida pledged she would stand out in the heat with her sign for two days if called upon. To her, Trump stands for honesty and fairness.
Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said the demonstrators were peaceful, and there were no arrests.
Approximately 49 officers provided security to the event – 23 Tulare County sheriff’s deputies and around 26 Tulare police officers. Tulare police needed 32.5 hours of overtime for the detail.
Taxpayers picked up the tab, Boudreaux said. The Trump campaign paid nothing. “We are responsible for dignitary security within the county, so our primary job is to work hand-in-hand with the Secret Service to make sure the resources they need are made available, and we did it. So it went off without a hitch.”
His department had 30 days advance notice. Boudreaux said that keeping the location private was helpful.
Host a pistachio grower
Corky Anderson owns a commercial nursery in Tulare that serves agriculture, especially pistachio tree growers. Anderson is well known among pistachio growers for developing a rootstalk able to withstand a fungi that causes verticillium wilt, according to Western Farm Press magazine.
“I call him the king of pistachios,” said Tulare Mayor David Macedo, an auctioneer who grows the popular nut on the side. “He’s done some amazing things on how to keep that tree stable in the ground.”
Macedo said city officials were aware in advance that Trump would be coming to town but took no special actions such as issuing a proclamation.
“It was pretty hush-hush,” he said. “The city didn’t get involved.”
Macedo said he was not attending the fundraiser and would be at his auction business because “it’s sale day here.”
Not far from the Anderson home is the Tulare Outlet Center, where shoppers said they had heard Trump was coming, although most did not know he was only blocks away.
When informed of the $2,700 price to have lunch with Trump, Daniel Ayon, 38, manager of a restaurant at the center, said,. “I can’t afford that – not even with a week of tips.”
Although Trump is a controversial candidate, “everybody has a chance to do what they think is right,” he said. “Vote, and make your opinion count.”
Gregory Yarborough, 30, of Tulare, a grocery store employee, said Trump’s visit was of little interest to him.
“The only thing I know about Donald Trump is he made a cameo appearance in ‘The Little Rascals’ movie,’ ” he said.
Joyce Allemang, 62, of Neligh, Neb., but formerly a resident of Visalia, said she once met Trump and supports him.
A few years ago, she and her son Jake, a high school student, were visiting Trump Tower in New York and were riding down the escalator when they heard people say Trump was behind them.
She waited at the bottom of the escalator and asked Trump if she could take a photo with him.
“He put his arm around Jake and said, ‘You’re a good boy,’ ” she recalled. “He was very kind, very polite.”
Politically, “I like what he has to say,” she said. “I don’t particularly like how he says it. He need a filter.”
Michael Kim, 46, of Visalia said he is a Republican and will vote for Trump, but took a dim view of the candidate spending time in California even if it is a fundraiser.
“He has not a chance in California,” Kim said. “He can fundraise anywhere. He’s wasting his time here.”
William McDarment, 21, of the Tule River Indian Reservation and a sawmill employee, said he was aware of the Trump visit.
“I found out through social media, just like everybody else,” he said. “I don’t really care for the man.” He said he supported Bernie Sanders for president and still does.
Rebecca Maldonado, 22, of Tulare and an employee of a skilled nursing facility, was getting a take-out lunch from a restaurant.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised” that Trump would be visiting Tulare to raise money, she said. “I know there are a lot of Republicans in the Valley, a lot of money, a lot of dairy money, so I’m not surprised.”