Devin Nunes was re-elected with 68% of the vote in his Central California Valley district
Constituents say his closeness to President Donald Trump is a plus
Even here though, Nunes has encountered detractors
House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes touched down in California’s Central Valley, 2,700 miles away from Washington, leaving the political swirl of DC and landing amid strong winds whipping through his home district.
The afternoon AM talk radio station went from the weather report to the political storm following Nunes. Caller after caller recalled the skinny boy raised on his family’s dairy farm, who would grow up to advise presidential candidate Donald Trump, and chair the House intelligence panel.
Tulare farmer Brian Watte turned down the radio, hearing nothing he already didn’t know.
“I know Devin personally and his integrity,” Watte said. “If this was someone I didn’t know, I’d kind of be wondering too. But knowing him personally all these years, his family, his background – he’s a straight shooter. One of these days it will come out and it’ll make sense, but in the meantime, we’re 100% with him.”
Finding support for the embattled congressman is hardly a challenge in Tulare, an agricultural town of 60,000. Nunes has won re-election seven times, usually grabbing 60-70% of the vote. Last November, 68% of his district voted for him to represent their interests in Washington.
He’s done exactly that, said farmer Charlie Pitigliano, who owned a farm next to the Nunes’ family dairy farm. Pitigliano said Nunes has fought for legislation to solve water issues in the Central Valley. He even managed to bring Trump to central California on a campaign stop to meet the farmers, a close relationship that Pitigliano said was visible to all the farmers invited to meet the then-Republican presidential candidate.
“They really hit it off and I really enjoyed seeing Donald Trump put that confidence in Devin,” Watte said.
The close relationship between the two men is at the heart of the criticism coming at Nunes from both sides of the aisle, as fellow representatives call on Nunes to recuse himself from the House intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia and any ties to the Trump campaign.
Democrats allege Nunes is doing the bidding of the White House instead of leading an independent investigation. The sharpest Republican critics, like Sen. John McCain, say Nunes’ unorthodox behavior may threaten the credibility of the intelligence committee.
But in Tulare, those cries in DC aren’t sticking.
Danny Tristao, who went to high school with Nunes, recalled a direct man and ethical man.
“He’s not a kind of person who will stand down. If he believes in something, he’ll pursue it and make it right.”
As far as the close relationship with the Trump administration, Tristao sees it as being motivated by a desire to help his California constituents.
“Any connection with the President, and having a relationship with him, can help us in this Valley.”
While Nunes enjoys a strong level of support, like many congressional Republicans after the election, he’s also seeing a groundswell of opposition. Carol Kim, a therapist in Fresno, leads one of the several opposition grassroots groups trying to organize against Nunes. Her group, “Together We Will Fresno Central Valley,” kicked off a fundraising campaign to try and find a Democratic challenger for Nunes’ seat.
Her group and the Indivisible group in central California have been protesting at Nunes’ district office and plan to tail him to public events in district.
“He won’t have a town hall and face us,” Kim said. “We see him as obstructing justice. He is failing at his job. When a congressman represents Trump and values Trump’s priorities over their constituents’ – time is up. Nunes has got to go.”
But Kim does admit it will be a herculean task to convince Nunes supporters to turn away from the favorite son.
Carlton Jones, Tulare’s mayor, is the same age as Nunes.
Like him, Jones was born here. The two men grew up together in Tulare and competed in high school basketball at rival schools. Jones is Tulare’s first African-American mayor and a Democrat. But he still considers Nunes worthy of hometown pride and respect, even as Jones disagrees with his friend’s actions this week.
Nunes, scheduled to speak across his district this weekend, deserves the warm embrace of his hometown, said Jones, even if he is greeted by protesters outside those events.
“Coming home for Devin should always be like coming home for anyone else,” the mayor says. “It’s your place of relaxation. It’s your break. We give him that respect.”