Political Notebook

Protesters picket, criticize Nunes outside Fresno water speech

'Raging grannies' protest as Devin Nunes visits Fresno

A group of "raging grannies" sing a song in support of the environment on Blackstone Avenue, in front of a banquet hall where the congressman is talking about water to a meeting of ag lenders. The women are among more than 300 people in the peacef
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A group of "raging grannies" sing a song in support of the environment on Blackstone Avenue, in front of a banquet hall where the congressman is talking about water to a meeting of ag lenders. The women are among more than 300 people in the peacef

A boisterous but peaceful demonstration along Blackstone Avenue greeted Rep. Devin Nunes on Friday as he spoke to a gathering of agricultural lenders about California’s farm water situation.

Nunes, a Republican from Tulare, avoided most of the protesters when he arrived at the TorNino’s Banquets venue by way of a different driveway along Shaw Avenue and slipped quickly into the hall through a rear door without stopping to talk with reporters. They were not allowed inside the hall to hear Nunes address the Ag Lenders Society of California.

But missing out on confronting the Tulare Republican did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the more than 300 protesters who formed a noisy, 200-yard line of chants and signs castigating Nunes on a wide array of issues, including his actions as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and an investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election; his support of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare; President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and for not holding open town hall meetings with constituents in his district.

The crowd began assembling a couple of hours before the scheduled 1 p.m. start of Nunes’ talk. By noon, the group had swelled to more than 100 and continued to grow.

One protester, clad in a dark suit and a Ronald Reagan mask, held a sign that said “Just say no to Russia.” Several picket signs bore messages such as “Recuse or Resign,” a reference to concerns that Nunes compromised the Intelligence Committee investigation through his recent communication with Trump and the White House. Other signs included messages to “Repeal and Replace Devin Nunes” and “Republicans hate government because they’re so bad at it.”

Devin Nunes has embarrassed the district, he’s embarrassed himself, he’s embarrassed the country.

Michael Evans, Fresno County Democratic Party chairman

Along with the usual, megaphone-enhanced chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Devin Nunes has got to go,” the protest also featured a group of about a dozen self-described “raging grannies” who sang a song protesting the proposed EPA budget cuts. A short distance up the block, someone else was blaring the stirring strains of the Russian national anthem on a loudspeaker – a not-so-subtle dig criticizing Nunes’ actions overseeing the Russian election-interference investigation.

Michael Evans, chairman of the Fresno County Democratic Party, said Nunes conducts few public meetings and no town halls in the district, so his appearance Friday was one of the few that he’s made here. “We want to let him to know we’re concerned with the shenanigans he’s carrying out as chair of the House Intelligence Committee,” Evans said. “A lot of people are very concerned. Devin Nunes has embarrassed the district, he’s embarrassed himself, he’s embarrassed the country.”

Suzanne Fortier of Fresno, a self-described fourth generation California farmer, said she came out to protest because she has “very serious” concerns about Nunes.

“He has not been on the right side of the issues as far as I’m concerned for some time,” said Fortier, who farms 40 acres of citrus. “But now with his antics on the Intelligence Committee, I’m very concerned.”

Nunes arrived at the banquet hall ahead of schedule in a silver SUV and spoke for about 45 minutes before hustling out a side door, out of sight of media and protesters. As word spread that Nunes had left the building, the crowd along Blackstone quickly dispersed.

Dr. Joseph Butterweck, a veterinarian from Friant, was in the audience to hear Nunes. Butterweck said that while most of the discussion was about California’s water issues, the congressman spent about 10 to 15 minutes talking about the Russia investigation. “But I wasn’t listening that closely to that particular thing because I didn’t think it was that important anyway,” Butterweck said. He added that Nunes criticized the national news media “because the press wasn’t reporting what actually happened.”

A major theme of the talk involved the proposed Temperance Flat Dam, Butterweck said. “I live up in that area, and they’ve been talking about it for years,” he said. “Physically, it’s not going to hold enough water in reality. But there are other issues that need to get resolved.”

Butterweck said Nunes declared that “California’s got to  do some things, and one is (fixing) the Endangered Species (Act). We’ve got certain species they claim are endangered, and that’s really hurting the water issue.

“Until we resolve that, we can’t really do a whole lot on the water issue,” Butterwick said of Nunes’ comments.

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