Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Nunes working on bipartisan Syria resolution urging diplomacy

Tulare Republican Rep. Devin Nunes and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin have agreed on the principles of a resolution that encourages President Barack Obama to use diplomatic channels — and not force — in the Syria crisis.

“The key here is it is bipartisan and bicameral,” Nunes said of the agreement.

Nunes said Friday that details of the resolution will be worked out over the weekend. The goal, however, is “something that gives the president good direction” on where Congress is.

Rep. Devin Nunes

A resolution authorizing force, Nunes said, is unlikely to be approved.
Obama has been seeking support for military strikes against Syria, which has been embroiled in a civil war. Obama says Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in the conflict.

But Nunes, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, says the situation in the war-racked Middle Eastern nation is so unstable and ever-changing that it is too difficult to sort out the good guys from the bad ones.

In fact, Nunes says, some sort of limited military strike like the one currently under consideration by the Obama administration could make things worse. The Middle East is a powder keg where the law of unintended consequences reigns supreme, he said.

Among those unknowns are the chances a U.S. strike could spark a wider Middle Eastern conflict.

Nunes stated his position Friday morning while answering a question following a breakfast address to the Greater Fresno Chamber of Commerce. He fleshed out some of the detail in a subsequent interview, where he also talked of the pending joint resolution with Manchin.

Already, Nunes has put together a Syria resolution that would make Obama respond to a list of nine questions and report back to Congress before initiating any sort of military action.

Among the questions:

  • How would a limited strike help secure Syria’s chemical weapons supplies and deter their future use, and how would it advance Obama’s policy supporting “regime change?”
  • Does al Qaeda or other terrorist groups in Syria have access to chemical weapons and have they used them in the past or could they in the future?
  • What is the financial cost of the Obama administration plan?

Nunes said there was a time to take military action against Syria, but that time is long past.

Now, he said, “we don’t have a lot of good options.”

Water at heart of heated email exchanges between Borba, others

West-side grower Mark Borba was forced to step down as Community Medical Centers’ board chair after he sent an email with a racially insensitive comment about President Barack Obama.

The story appeared in Tuesday’s Bee.

But Borba’s statement was just one small part of a long-running series of email exchanges on March 1 that exposed a seamier side of politics not often seen by the general public.

Mark Borba

The emails went on for hours and primarily involved Borba, Johnny Amaral, who is chief of staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, a Tulare Republican, and Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham.

Several others, including Westlands board members and staffers for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, were copied in some of the emails.

The f-word was often used, as were other expletives.

It all started with Borba thanking Rep. Jim Costa, a Fresno Democrat, for writing a letter to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor.

In the letter, Costa urged the Bureau to increase water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is restricted because of protections in place to protect the delta smelt.

Borba then added: “This is total insanity. Where the Hell is Feinstein & the Administration?” He then goes on to detail the economic losses to the Valley’s west side before concluding: “The Senator’s silence is deafening.”

One of those copied on the email was Birmingham, who responded with a defense of Feinstein. He wrote to Borba that “Senator Feinstein and her staff have been pushing Interior and Reclamation behind the scenes.”

It is at that point that Borba explodes with multiple expletives and calls Obama “Blackie.” He wrote: “I’m tired of these (expletive) politicians waltzing thru here… telling us how tough things are… picking our pockets for campaign $$$$… and they returning to DC and doing nothing! Put their (expletive) careers on the line… or step down.”

Birmingham then lashed out in response, telling Borba to “give me a (expletive) break.” He then brings the Valley’s Republican congressional delegation — Nunes, Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, Hanford’s David Valadao and Turlock’s Jeff Denham — into the increasingly heated email conversation.

Tom Birmingham

“The question you should be asking,” Birmingham wrote to Borba, “is where in the (expletive) were Denham, Nunes, Valadao and McCarthy, all of whom were asked to sign the (Costa) letter.”

Birmingham tells Borba that all of Costa’s Valley Republican congressional colleagues refused to sign the letter.

Borba then responds with an email to Nunes. He copied both Amaral and Birmingham. In the email, Borba tells Nunes that “standing on the sidelines… is not helpful. We’re dying out here… and you’re playing politics? What’s your excuse? If we ran our businesses like you guys run Congress… we’d be broke. Come to think of it… we’re getting there… with your ‘help.’”

Amaral responds, telling Borba he is “pathetic.”

“How quickly (Westlands) forgets what we did… and how they allowed (Feinstein) to do nothing at all. Its no wonder you guys continue to lose. Sending (expletive) letters meant to cover someones (expletive) does nothing to advance the effort,” Amaral wrote.

Borba then, in essence, asks both Amaral and Nunes — what have you done for west-side agriculture lately? Amaral replies that Nunes and his fellow Republicans did do something for the west side last year, “and you guys completely (expletive) it up and threw it away.”

At one point, Amaral writes “blah blah blah. The moment you (expletive) get your lord and savior difi (Feinstein) to do something… ANYTHING at all, the House will move a bill again.”

In an interview Tuesday, Amaral explained this part of his exchange with Borba. He said it was about H.R. 1837, legislation that would have would restored about 1.4 million acre-feet of water annually to Valley farmers who have lost water to environmental causes.

Amaral said considerable work went into the bill, which eventually passed the Republican-controlled House with the support of 10 Democrats, including Costa. But then the Senate — or Feinstein — did nothing.

“It was a gift teed up do something relevant on water and it was squandered,” Amaral said in the interview.

Instead, Amaral said, west-side ranchers and growers held a fundraiser for Feinstein.

As the emails between Amaral and Borba grow uglier and more personal, Amaral adds a new element, telling Borba he didn’t appreciate him “calling Devin a (expletive) to (Republican businessman) Tal Cloud.”

Borba responds: “Sometimes the truth hurts.”

During the exchanges, Nunes, Cloud and Fresno County Lincoln Club Chairman Michael Der Manouel Jr. weigh in. Both Nunes and Der Manouel write to Borba saying that letters are useless — Der Manouel saying they “don’t mean (expletive).”

Cloud’s contribution: “I can’t wait to hear the other side of the story on this. Most likely (Nunes) is tired of you everyone (sic) kissing Feinstein’s (expletive) when she never comes through on issues that matter.”

Amaral said Tuesday he regretted his use of profanity — but not the content of the emails.

“I will defend to my last dying breath the work Devin has done to improve the water situation in California and in the Valley,” he said. “I am proud of the work we’ve done.”

Nunes pointed out in an interview that several Westlands growers support and have donated to Democrats such as Feinstein and Gov. Jerry Brown. He said those Democrats “laugh at these guys over drinks, and they’re playing them for money.”

“This is no different than what we’ve been telling these guys,” Nunes added. “They have a flawed strategy that is doomed to failure.”

Borba and Birmingham both declined to comment on the emails. Feinstein also declined to comment.

Obama wins Fresno Co. again; shows west side strength

The San Joaquin Valley is often touted — along with Orange County and Southern California’s Inland Empire — as one of the Republican Party’s bulwarks against the rising tide of Democratic control.

But last November, Fresno County — the very heart of the Valley — once again went for Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential election. It wasn’t a blowout. Obama won 49.7% to Romney’s 47.9%. So Fresno County is light blue, but blue nonetheless.

How did it break down?

Generally speaking, east went for Romney (in the 23rd Assembly District, which elected Fresno Republican Jim Patterson, Romney won 55% to Obama’s 43%) and west for Obama (in the 31st Assembly District, which reelected Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, Obama won big, 62% to Romney’s 36%).

These are, of course, generalizations. Turnout, for instance, was higher in the 23rd District.

For those keeping score across the Valley, the three main Fresno-area congressional districts (Republican Tom McClintock represents the sparsely populated foothill and Sierra parts) broke down like this:

In the 21st Congressional District, Obama won 55% to Romney’s 44%. This district, which covers parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties and all of Kings County, elected Hanford Republican David Valadao.

In the 22nd Congressional District, Romney won 57% to Obama’s 42%. This district, which covers parts of Tulare and Fresno counties, reelected Tulare Republican Devin Nunes.

And in the 16th Congressional District, Obama won 59% to Romney’s 39%. This district, which covers parts of Fresno and Madera counties and all of Merced County, reelected Fresno Democrat Jim Costa.

Political Notebook: No TV in 5th Assembly race and other quick hits as Election Day nears

A few tidbits and quick hits as Election Day closes in:

The 5th Assembly District sprawls across all or parts of nine counties in the western Sierra foothills, across the highest peaks and over to the Nevada border.

There’s tons of square miles, and no real big cities.

So how does a candidate reach voters? Not by television, it seems, at least not during the general election.

Calaveras County businessman Rico Oller and Madera County Supervisor Frank Bigelow are passing up TV in favor of radio, lots of radio, as well as mailers, to get their message to voters.

“TV for that district is nearly impossible,” said said political analyst Tony Quinn, a former GOP legislative aide and co-editor of California Target Book, a nonpartisan analysis of legislative and congressional races.

The main TV markets are Fresno and Sacramento — or even Reno — but they only cover parts of the district. It’s not much bang for the buck, Quinn said.

Both Oller and Bigelow have purchased radio spots on stations in Bishop, Sonora, Fresno, Modesto, Merced, Jackson, Mammoth Lakes and Stateline and Reno in neighboring Nevada.

It’s hard to get all seven Fresno City Council members to agree on much of anything, but it appears they’ve come together on State Center Community College District trustee Richard Caglia.

Lee Brand, Andreas Borgeas, Blong Xiong, Larry Westerlund, Sal Quintero, Oliver Baines and Clint Olivier have all endorsed Caglia for reelection over challenger Kevin Hall in District 7 on the State Center board.

A few weeks ago Fresno County Supervisor Debbie Poochigian not only announced her endorsement of Jim Patterson over Bob Whalen in the 23rd Assembly District race, she also sent her constituents a letter urging them to support the former Fresno mayor as well.

Now, we know how much that cost.

Patterson’s latest campaign finance report shows Poochigian spent $3,635.52 on postage, envelopes and letters.

Otto Lee, the Bay Area Democrat who is challenging incumbent Republican Devin Nunes in the 22nd Congressional District, is now a Clovis resident.
Lee, a lawyer and former City Council member and mayor of Sunnyvale, had lived in the Bay Area during the primary. But this week his campaign said he was a Clovis resident.

Fresno County elections officials confirmed Lee changed his voter registration from Sunnyvale to a Clovis apartment in June.

Political Notebook: Democrats continue to lead Republicans in Fresno Co. voter registration

Fresno County Democrats are continuing to lead rival Republicans in signing up new voters, data released today by the Secretary of State’s Office shows.

The new voter registration numbers — the last that will be released before Tuesday’s election — show there are 6,396 more Democrats than Republicans in Fresno County.

In raw numbers, it is 164,663 Democrats to 158,267 Republicans.

Last month, the Democrats led by 2,635, and in May, it was 2,700.

Also showing significant growth were those voters who are declining to join a political party, or are registered with one that isn’t recognized by the state, such as the once-relevant Reform Party.

In May, these people with “no party preference” were at 61,869. Last month, it was 62,311. And now, it is 67,417.

The latest numbers show the Republican Party in Fresno County continuing to struggle on the registration front, and marks a continuing reversal of fortune for the local GOP, which a decade ago was riding high.

In 2000, Republicans in Fresno County overtook Democrats in voter registration totals for the first time in anyone’s memory. That lead peaked in 2004 with a GOP advantage of more than 24,000 voters.

But Democrats worked to close the gap, and by the middle of 2010 had retaken the lead. They haven’t relinquished it since, and now appear to be growing it.

A stark example of that is looking back to this point four years ago, when President Barack Obama was seeking his first term in office. At that point, Republicans still held a lead of more than 10,000 voters.

Since that point, Democrats in Fresno County have added more than 11,200 voters, while Republicans have added just 4,800.

It turns a 2004 quote from Michael Der Manouel Jr. on its head. “Countywide,” the current chairman of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County said, “I don’t believe (Democrats) will ever catch us again.”

The City of Fresno also remains solidly Democratic, with 21,350 more registered voters than Republicans.

While Republicans lag in Fresno County, they are continuing their domination of rival Democrats in the rest of the central San Joaquin Valley — Tulare, Kings and Madera counties.

In Tulare, there are 63,809 Republicans to 49,151 Democrats. In Kings, it is 21,812 Republicans to 17,068 Democrats. And in Madera, 24,152 Republicans to 18,301 Democrats.

As for the local congressional races, Democrats are dominating voter registration in the two westside districts — the 16th, where Fresno Democrat Jim Costa is seeking reelection, and the 21st, which is an open seat featuring a battle between Republican Assembly Member David Valadao and Fresno Democrat John Hernandez.

At the same time, Republican voters rule in the eastside districts currently held by GOP incumbents Devin Nunes, Kevin McCarthy and Tom McClintock.

Of particular interest is the Hernandez-Valadao clash, because political prognosticators have dubbed Valadao the clear favorite even though Republicans lag in registration. Hernandez has vowed to get Democrats to the polls.

The registration numbers are through Oct. 22.