For more than a decade, Rep. Devin Nunes has been about as reliably Republican as they come.
Never one to shy away from controversy or to speak his mind, the Tulare Republican has openly touted a conservative political agenda.
Rep. Devin Nunes
He’s called opponents of a new reservoir above Lake Millerton “radical environmentalists.”
He’s clashed with congressional Democrats and spent a good amount of campaign cash waging a political war against Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In his book titled “Restoring the Republic,” Nunes said environmental lobbyists were “followers of neo-Marxist, socialist, Maoist or Communist ideals.” Global warming claims were called “hysteria” spread by a “Doomsday cult.”
This week, however, the seemingly impossible happened: Nunes has been attacked by some Republicans — especially Tea Party Republicans — for not being far enough to the political right.
He’s since been called a sellout, a capitulator and, a favorite of Republicans who feel some politician isn’t holding up the party’s principles, a RINO — or “Republican In Name Only.”
It all came after Nunes referred to his hard-line Republican House colleagues as “lemmings with suicide vests” for letting the government shut down over opposition to the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
For the record, Nunes opposes the law. But he thinks shutting down the government over it is a losing strategy for his party, and one that could hurt it politically in the long run.
“All I’m doing is stating the obvious, that we don’t have the votes.” Nunes said in an interview. “I’m now a RINO because I can count.”
In other words, the Senate isn’t supportive of the House’s strategy to shut down the government over Obamacare, and even if it was supportive, there aren’t the votes there to override a veto by President Barack Obama.
Nunes been attacked by fellow Republicans in the media, in calls to his office and even on his Facebook page. People are threatening that he’ll get a political challenger from his own right next year.
Michael Der Manouel Jr., a Fresno businessman and conservative Republican, doesn’t question Nunes’ conservative credentials, and certainly doesn’t consider him a Republican In Name Only.
But, he does say that Nunes “needs to choose his words more carefully when he’s not happy with whatever (Republican) strategy is going on.”
And he sounds like some of Nunes’ Facebook critics when he says Nunes should “stop worrying about tactics and start worrying about your country.” It is, Der Manouel says, a political face-off against rival Democrats, and so Nunes must stand firm for as long as necessary.
But Nunes is equally adamant that it is a losing strategy for his party, in which shutdown supporters have no end game or alternative solution.
“This is bad for those of us trying to work on reforms,” he said.
David Schecter, a Fresno State political science professor, thinks that Nunes is able to speak his mind because he is politically safe — not only from Democrats, but from ultra-conservative Republicans as well.
His district is solidly Republican, and Nunes has the fundraising prowess and a campaign war chest to ward off anyone who might attack from the right next year, Schecter said.
“He’s basically as protected as they get,” Schecter said.
West-side grower Mark Borba was ousted from the Community Medical Centers board after referring to President Barack Obama as “Blackie” in an email exchange with Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham.
But at least one prominent local businessman says Borba got a raw deal.
Michael Der Manouel Jr., a Republican and chair of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County, devoted his daily KMJ (AM 580) radio commentary to the controversy, saying the Borba has a long record of helping the poor and shouldn’t have been removed for a single slip up.
“While there’s no question Mr. Borba’s choice of words are regrettable, there’s also no question that his ouster by the board was an overreaction,” Der Manouel said in the commentary.
Der Manouel also said Borba apologized for his remarks, “expressing sincere regret for using that word and other words in the email.” The remark was part of a long email debate over water for the Valley’s west side.
“I’ve known Mark Borba for years and he’s given decades of time, talent and treasure to the local health care effort, largely to provide services for indigent and predominantly Hispanic Valley residents,” Der Manouel said. “He’s no racist.”
In a follow-up interview, Der Manouel said Borba has “raised and given hundreds of thousands of dollars for (Community Regional), whose primary mission downtown is to provide indigent, unreimbursed health care.”
Michael Der Manouel Jr.
Der Manouel said in an interview that Borba “made an off-handed remark in a private email. There is no evidence that this sort of thing has ever happened before or will happen again. So what does the hospital board gain by removing him as chair? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
What it is, Der Manouel said, is political correctness run amok.
“The enforcement of politically correct speech in this country is a disease of the gutless,” he said in the KMJ commentary. “You don’t throw 30 years of service away over an incident like this because nobody goes through life without an errant word now and then.”
If Borba was African American, Der Manouel said, “I doubt if this would be a story.”
Der Manouel, who owns an insurance company, said if it was his employee who made such a remark, “it depends on the situation, but for a one time situation, I seriously doubt if I would terminate someone over a mistake that was made and genuine remorse professed.”
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.
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.
“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.