Political Notebook

Harsh portrayal of their hometown congressman Devin Nunes riles his neighbors and friends

Nunes & Sons dairy north of Tulare, where embattled local congressman Devin Nunes learned the dairy business as a youth, is feeding and milking Jersey cows 24 hours a day.

Jersey cows produce more milk fat than other dairy breeds, making the milk worth more. But a detail like that is easy to lose sight of, and the image of cows with huge udders ready for milking makes it easy for the national media to portray the leader of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as, well, maybe not up to the task when the controversy involved alleged Russian attempts to disrupt an American presidential contest.

That’s a view that plain annoys farmer Brian Watte of Tulare. He grows cotton, alfalfa, black-eyed peas and pistachio trees, and has known Nunes well before he was elected to Congress more than 14 years ago.

“This B.S. that he milks cows from Podunk and shouldn’t be on the intelligence committee – c’mon,” Watte said. “It’s just a continuation of, I guess, Trump’s election. They need to get over it.”

In the agricultural community of Tulare, the Nunes family is known for working hard and speaking plainly, Watte said: “There’s no beating around the bush. They are straight ahead. What you see is what you get.”

Nunes, whose district has been safely Republican with a 43-33 percent voter registration advantage for the GOP over Democrats, lives in Tulare and often comes home to see his family.

The Nuneses live in a gated community named Presidential Estates, where a three-bedroom, three-bath home lists for $340,000.

Judy Medcalf, a retired piano teacher, is a neighbor who rejects the national media’s negative portrayal of the congressman.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” she said Friday as she and her husband, Robert, a retired pastor, exited through the entry gate to Presidential Estates. “Washington is a broken thing, and I think it’s more of the same. I think we need to get past all this stuff and work for the common good of America.”

Like other neighbors of Nunes, she complained about the protesters who two weeks ago occupied sidewalks outside the gated neighborhood and made a lot of noise using a bullhorn.

“I support the First Amendment,” she said. But “to come where a person lives. I don’t see the point of that.” Holding public office is a sacrifice, and Nunes’ children have the right to feel safe at their home, she said.

“Devin is a fine person. He’s a good father,” she said. “I see him out with his children.”

Carlos Holguin, 73, a semi-retired contractor who has done cement work for Nunes’ dairies and ran into Nunes on a trip to Washington, D.C., lives next to the gated community.

“I’m kind of a Nunes fan or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “He’s a person who stands behind what he says … Quite a few people around here like him.”

The negative criticism of Nunes is off-base, he said.

“People are talking without knowing anything,” he said. “Democrats are sticking with Democrats. They won’t open their ears.”

Nunes represents the 22nd Congressional District, which includes Tulare, Visalia, Clovis and part of Fresno. He always has had strong support from the region’s farmers and agricultural industry. Last year, he won re-election by capturing 68 percent of the vote.

But the headlines of this week have also riled local opponents.

A group called Together We Will Fresno said it is helping to identify and support a Democratic challenger to Nunes and is raising money to try to turn the red district blue.

“Nunes’ sophomoric and apparently partisan stunt today is further indication that he is out of his depth on the Intelligence Committee,” Michael D. Evans, chairman of the Fresno County Democratic Party, said earlier this week. “Nunes has now used a national platform to embarrass not only himself but also his Central Valley district.”

But even those in Tulare who didn’t vote for Nunes shy away from that kind of rhetoric.

Ramon Cervantes, 71, who lives in the neighborhood next to Nunes’ home, said he’s not a Republican, but “I would not insult him. I’ve been in the military. Even if I don’t like my first sergeant, I respect the rank.

“My advice to him is to look at the bigger picture,” he said. “He gets information, then he goes to Trump when he’s supposed to share it with the Democrats. All eyes are on this and you do something like that?”

Jim Dokken, 70, of Tulare, a retired farm equipment sales general manager, said Nunes made a mistake.

“I like the guy,” Dokken said. “In this instance, I think he made an error in judgment.”

Nunes apologized to fellow committee members for not telling them first about how communications of members of the Trump presidential transition team, and maybe Trump himself, may have been monitored by intelligence agencies.

Nunes may be the hometown congressman, but life goes on and not everyone is watching the nation’s capital and the congressman’s struggles.

Kelsey De La Garza, 28, is a graduate of Tulare Western High and employed as a waiter who voted for Hillary Clinton and didn’t cast a vote for Congress. He was taking a power walk Friday in Blain Park across the street from Nunes’ neighborhood.

“I’ve seen his name posted everywhere on Facebook,” he said. “Something about surveillance.”

Meanwhile, Donahue Green, who lives across the street from Presidential Estates, was washing his golf cart.

“I’m not into politics. I’m a retired pastor,” he said. “I just pray for him. That’s all I can do.”

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold

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