In November 2002, the voters of Fresno and Tulare counties sent to Capitol Hill a 29-year-old political neophyte named Devin Nunes.
What Nunes lacked in experience he made up for in brashness and energy. He was one of us, a salt-of-the-earth dairy farmer from Pixley who would represent our interests without sinking into the Washington cesspool.
Sixteen years later, our man Devin is chest-deep in muck. The supposed man of the people turned out to be just another pompous, entitled politician who barks at anyone who questions him.
Even a routine query like, “Are you going to hold any public forums?” (something Nunes hasn’t done in years) turns into a preposterous rant. (And, no, $2,700-a-plate fundraisers don’t qualify.)
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It’s funny. Before sitting down to write, I delved deep into the archives looking for clues and hints about Nunes’ early years in Congress. And you know what? Back then, he actually had a local focus.
One of Nunes’ first moves was to push for the Temperance Flat dam. It’ll never be built, but at least Nunes was looking out for Valley ag interests. He also spearheaded a push to garner a federal interstate designation for Highway 99, which also went nowhere, and drove a debate on redistricting that didn’t sit well with his Republican cohorts.
To his credit, Nunes managed to bring home a few slices of bacon. He got $4 million to build a parking garage in Visalia and $750,000 to pay for eight clean-air buses in Fresno. He was even praised for constituent services.
But then something changed. Nunes rose up the political ladder, transformed into the darling of right-wing cable news and lost all interest in the people he’s supposed to represent. His silence on two issues that affect thousands of Valley residents – immigration and free trade – make this abundantly clear.
Last week, The Bee ran an op-ed written by two California farm industry leaders about immigration reform. “Our farms … are heavily dependent on foreign workers, the vast majority of whom are unauthorized,” it read.
The authors praised several Valley politicians for their efforts in this area, namely Republican congressmen David Valadao, Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy. Whose name was conspicuously absent? Nunes’, whose silence on this topic has been telling.
I can only assume President Trump’s interests trump those of farmers.
Same goes for free trade. Nunes used to be a staunch proponent, to the point where he even backed President Obama (!) on a European Union trade deal in 2013. “Boosting U.S. participation in free and fair trade will benefit both the United States and our trading partners,” Nunes said at the time.
Five years later, as Trump threatens a trade war that could wallop Valley farmers in the nether regions, Nunes hasn’t said a peep.
Nunes is similarly silent about recent allegations that he improperly used political donations to charter a private jet. We’ve also learned Nunes funneled thousands from his own leadership political action committee, New PAC, to pay for Boston Celtics tickets, lavish trips to Las Vegas, winery tours and limousine rides.
Must be nice to be a political fat cat. Living the high life on his donors’ dime.
Three times between February and May 2017, according to his own filings, Nunes spent $14,638 to watch the Celtics play at TD Garden. Nunes is a lifelong Celtics fan and longtime contrarian. While most of his friends and neighbors cheered for Magic Johnson and the Lakers, Nunes rooted for Larry Bird. Figures.
While in Boston, Nunes needed a place to stay. Which is why, on the day of a Celtics-Wizards playoff game, New PAC spent $3,593 at the four-star Omni Parker House Hotel.
Because no self-respecting congressman would be caught dead at a Hampton Inn, like the one on Cherry Street in Tulare.
Nunes’ caviar tastes accompanied him to Las Vegas, where his PAC has spent $42,741 since 2013 on hotels, meals, catering and site rentals.
The lavish expenditures don’t end there. Nunes’ PAC spent more than $10,000 at The Prime Rib, an upscale restaurant in D.C., $5,075 at Gold Coast Limousine in Santa Barbara, nearly $5,000 at six Central Coast wineries and $4,408 at the Sea Venture Hotel in Pismo Beach.
What do each of these businesses have in common? None of them are located within Nunes’ district. He couldn’t even spread the largesse locally. We’re beneath him, apparently.
It must be said that Nunes is doing nothing illegal. Leadership PACs like Nunes’ are intended for members of Congress to donate money to other political campaigns, but using them for fundraising purposes is commonplace.
In other words, just typical swampish behavior.
When asked by McClatchy D.C. reporter Kate Irby to comment on his PAC expenses, Nunes brushed aside the question. “I wish I could help you,” he replied.
Our congressman must be too preoccupied wining and dining wealthy donors, taking limo rides and cheering on his beloved Celtics. Being a swamp resident does have its perks.