Every Tuesday, a group of Congressman Devin Nunes’ constituents gathers outside his district office in Clovis even though they know it’s likely empty.
“It’s symbolic in many ways. We’re waiting and watching for him to come,” said Dave Derby, who stood outside the Sentinel Executive Offices building on Clovis Avenue last week alongside nearly 80 others — some wearing masks resembling Nunes, President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Well look who finally showed up to his fake office in Clovis,” an anti-Nunes Twitter account posted online Tuesday, referencing a man wearing a Nunes mask, an orange jumpsuit and a ball and chain.
For about a year, Derby, 69, a former principal in the Clovis Unified School District, has been leading what he calls a vigil outside the building that houses one of two of the high-profile congressman's field offices, but said he’s never seen him or a representative enter or exit.
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"This is about not paying attention to his constituents,” Derby said. “That’s really the crux of it. Is he our representative or is he not?”
When a Bee reporter tried to enter Nunes' office last Monday, in a building where about 20 other businesses rent space, a building employee said not to bother. “They just use us as a mail slot,” the employee said. No one was there when a reporter visited again on Friday.
When March for Our Lives activists attempted to hand-deliver an invitation to the office on Tuesday, aiming to invite the Tulare Republican to a discussion on gun regulations, the door was locked. “I knocked several times and no one answered,” said 21-year-old activist Yasmin Mendoza of Fresno.
Calls made last week to the Clovis office automatically rerouted to the Visalia office. Anthony Ratekin, Nunes’ chief of staff, declined to answer questions regarding the occupancy of the offices as part of a public records request filed by The Bee.
According to the latest House of Representatives statements of disbursements, $500 is spent each month to rent the Clovis office, and more than $3,000 a month for Nunes' office in Visalia.
Among the Valley's congressional delegation, Nunes and David Valadao, R-Hanford, have the fewest staffers devoted to their local district offices. Each member of the House of Representatives receives an allowance for official expenses and can choose how to allocate for travel, personnel and supplies.
Between his 22nd District and his office in the U.S. Capitol, Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, employed 25 people, five of whom are based in the district — four in Visalia and one in Clovis, according to House of Representatives documents.
Those five serve a district population of more than 755,000 people in Tulare and Fresno counties. It's the most populous congressional district in the central San Joaquin Valley, but the staffing ratio works out to be the most lopsided of the Valley's delegation: about 151,000 residents for each local Nunes staffer.
Nancy Gilmore, 56, of Clovis, called in to ask Nunes about his Clovis office while he was doing an interview with KMJ radio host Ray Appleton on March 23.
Nunes said he was "very well aware" of Gilmore, a supporter of Democrat Andrew Janz, who is running against Nunes for Congress, and said she should have "identified herself properly," but addressed her question, saying that while the office is not open 24/7, it is open.
"We're very proud of that office. So what we do there is we actually have students who come in and out of there. We try to train students. We have equipment there that students can use to put together videos. Some of those we’ve actually sent out via our email listserv to constituents, so those of you who are on our listserv, you’ve seen those," Nunes said on the show. "Also, we have permanent staff that go in and out of meetings around Fresno and Clovis and Reedley and all the places that I represent. So, in fact, the Clovis office is used. It's not an office that is open all the time because it's a satellite office, but it is used and we are proud of the people that we have there."
Gilmore, a retired engineer who used to rent an office in the Sentinel building, said there has been no sign of life in Nunes' suite in several years. "It's a nonexistent office. It became a figurehead — a kind of symbol of his nonexistence in the community," Gilmore told The Bee. "On top of that, the taxpayers are paying for it, as well. So even though he's not there, they have chosen to protest there because it brings to light his non-interaction with his constituents."
This is not the first time Nunes has been criticized for neglecting his district amid a tumultuous year that includes an investigation into alleged collusion between the Russian government and Trump's presidential campaign. Cardboard cutouts resembling Nunes have replaced him at local town hall events and his critics have adopted "Where is Devin Nunes?" as their slogan.
Tessa Wells, with the Fresno Women's Huddle, has organized events that Nunes has declined to attend, and called his Clovis office "a very expensive taxpayer mailbox" but said it's indicative of his community relations.
"We continue to be very disappointed that our 'representative' refuses to acknowledge us unless we pay exorbitant amounts of money to see him at private and restricted events," Wells said in an email. "We find it in bad faith that he spends taxpayer money for an office that he and his staff never visit ... Nunes and his staff are not available and are scared to meet with citizens he is supposed to represent."
Like Nunes, fellow Valley Rep. Valadao, R-Hanford, has only one staffer assigned to his satellite office in Bakersfield, but it is occupied and open to the public, spokeswoman Anna Vetter said. Valadao’s representatives also host “mobile hours” at public libraries to better reach the public, she said.
“We accept walk-ins and appointments (in Bakersfield.) If we don’t have a staffer there, because they are out in the community visiting a school or organization, we reroute phone calls,” Vetter said. “It is absolutely a fully functioning office.”
Valadao's five local staffers — four in Hanford and one in Bakersfield — were among his total staff of 19 employees. The district's population is about 726,000, representing a ratio of one staffer for about 145,000 residents.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, has a total staff of 21 employees, eight assigned to his two offices in the 16th District — six in downtown Fresno and two in Merced. That breaks down to a ratio of about 91,000 residents per staff member.
"The only time there wouldn’t be someone there would be if both of our field reps were out in the field working, but that’s very rare," said Claudia Larson, a staff member for Costa, about the congressman's satellite office in Merced.
Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, each had eight staffers in their local offices — Denham's in Modesto serving his 10th District and McCarthy's 23rd District office in Bakersfield. For Denham, the ratio works out to one staffer for about 93,000 residents, while McCarthy's district has almost 91,000 residents per local staff member.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, has only one local office in his 4th District which ranges along the east side of the Central Valley from northeast of Sacramento to the Fresno-Tulare county line. McClintock has seven district staffers in his Roseville office. The staffing ratio is about 105,000 residents for each local staffer.
The congressional staff figures do not include separate office staffs for McCarthy's post as the House Republican Leader, nor does it count the staff who serve Nunes on the Intelligence Committee.