Valley Voices

Devin Nunes tried to scare these three Valley citizens with a lawsuit. It didn’t work

The three Valley residents who were sued by Rep. Devin Nunes: Hope Nisly, left, Paul Buxman, center, and Daniel O’Connell.
The three Valley residents who were sued by Rep. Devin Nunes: Hope Nisly, left, Paul Buxman, center, and Daniel O’Connell. Contributed

In August 2018, we petitioned the courts to require Devin Nunes, the elected representative of California’s Congressional District 22, to remove “farmer” from his ballot designation and replace it with an accurate description of his occupation. Calling oneself a farmer in California’s Central Valley is a powerful and persuasive term, one that easily sways voters.

Honesty is an important quality for an elected official, beginning with the ballot designation and continuing with all that a public representative does while in office. With our lawsuit, we were asking Congressman Nunes to display the integrity that we believe all representatives should show. Though the court deferred to the position of California’s secretary of state in its first verdict, we maintained our original declaration and appealed the decision. Only after running out of funds were we compelled to withdrawal from the initial lawsuit.

nunes peek
FILE - In this March 24, 2017, file photo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite AP file

Then, on Aug. 1 of this year, in an unnecessary and punitive action, Rep. Nunes’ campaign committee filed a claim accusing us of civil conspiracy and interference with the campaign’s economic advantage. We recognized this as a vindictive action, clearly designed to threaten us and intimidate other residents, citizens and voters. The message: no one should dare to question the congressman or meaningfully engage in the electoral process. Against common sense and long-standing democratic values, a United States congressman was filing a lawsuit in a purposeful effort to intimidate voters. We recognized that the aim was to stifle our constitutional rights to free speech and silence anyone else from petitioning the courts for redress.

The claims from the Nunes campaign were at best ludicrous, and at worst, explicitly undemocratic actions taken by a powerful official against the local residents he is charged with representing in the federal government. It should be clear to politicians, from the moment they begin their bid for office, that they will be scrutinized and, when necessary, criticized. That is an important part of our democratic system. The actions and statements of our political officials are an important window into their personal character and political views. With the recent lawsuit against us, we understood that we were being attacked in an effort to scare us from voicing our concerns, and to thwart others from actively questioning or participating in the electoral process and our democracy as a whole.

The three of us are citizens, voters, and longtime residents of the Central Valley. We care deeply about the issues facing people of this region. Paul Buxman is a family farmer, who continues to cultivate tree fruit on his farm even in retirement. His peaches and nectarines end up on the shelves of the grocery stores. Hope Nisly is a librarian who believes that access to accurate information, freedom of speech, and the right to petition the government are cornerstones of our democratic system. Daniel O’Connell is a farm advocate and agrarian scholar who works to build an economically equitable and ecologically stable food system.

We are all members of historic peace churches — both in the Mennonite and Quaker traditions. Our foundational commitments to the practice of nonviolence intimately connects us to achieving social justice and necessitates stances of integrity in our personal conduct and public actions. We therefore entered into the original lawsuit only after a period of discernment and reflection. Our final decision to proceed with legal action was founded upon our shared awareness of rising threats to the democratic values that undergird our political system, secure our constitutional rights and maintain our public institutions. In an era of lies and falsehoods emanating from elected leaders, we choose to speak truth to power.

Scare tactics do not and will not work when fundamental principles are at stake. Congressman Nunes will either represent the public’s best interests or he will be voted out of office. Our country is still a democracy. We ask the congressman to stop bullying his constituents, to show up in his district, to participate in town halls, to openly engage local voters, to refrain from attacking newspapers, and to represent us — all of us. As an elected official he cannot believe that we owe him his position — he needs to earn and deserve it by being a better representative.

Editor’s note: On Sept. 3 the campaign for Devin Nunes dropped the lawsuit against the trio.