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.”

Fresno Co. GOP Facebook page used to attack Amaral

This may be the last word on the ugly, profanity-laced email exchange between Mark Borba, a west-side grower, and Johnny Amaral, chief of staff for Rep. Devin Nunes, a Tulare Republican.

The email chain is best known for one sent from Borba to Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham that included a racially insensitive comment about President Barack Obama. That resulted in Borba stepping down as Community Medical Centers’ board chair.

But it seems a Republican who had access to the Fresno County GOP’s Facebook page was unhappy with Amaral’s comments.

Not long after the April exchange, someone wrote on the Fresno County GOP Facebook page that Amaral’s emails were unacceptable and he should resign from Nunes’ staff.

The comment — which wasn’t authorized or the official position of Fresno County’s Republican Party — might have been quickly erased and largely gone unnoticed. But there was a problem: local party leaders couldn’t take it down because they lacked administrator privileges on the Facebook page.

So it stayed up — for a long time — while Fresno County Republican Central Committee Chair Sandra Lakeman tried to get the administrator privileges changed.

Lakeman is the newly elected chair, and the leadership team of the Fresno County GOP changed as well. Things such as Facebook were never updated. Someone, or likely several people, from a past regime held those administrator privileges.

Two weeks later — after Lakeman had to prove to Facebook officials that she was the duly elected head of the Fresno County GOP — she was given administrator privileges and was able to take the post down.

She replaced it with an apology:

“The statement posted April 10th regarding the Chief of Staff, Johnny Amaral and Congressman Devin Nunes, was not an authorized message by the Fresno Country Republican Party. The Fresno County Republican Party values our working relationship with our Republican Party election officials. This was a malicious attack against these individuals.”

Amaral said he believes the current Fresno Republican leadership had no role in the comment, and actually finds the whole thing funny.

“I talked to Sandra and others at the Fresno County GOP, and I take them at their word,” he said. “No harm, no foul, in my opinion. We all got a good laugh out of it.”

Der Manouel defends Borba: an overreaction to one bad word

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.

Mark Borba

“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.”

Ishii’s federal judge replacement in Fresno is on the slow track

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Sacramento Superior Court Judge Troy Nunley to serve as a U.S. District Court judge in the eastern federal judicial district.

Don’t expect a similar vote any time soon in the eastern district’s other courthouse here in Fresno, where U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii’s position is also open.

Anthony W. Ishii

President Barack Obama, it appears, wants to send out a second applicant call and see if additional people seek the position.

U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats, trade off making recommendations for federal judicial vacancies, each advised by a panel of experts. It is Boxer’s turn to offer a replacement for Ishii.

Fresno attorney Don Fischbach, who chairs Boxer’s screening committee for the Eastern District of California, said the panel had been vetting candidates, but “we didn’t have a great number of applicants like we usually do.”

Fischbach said once the election was over last November and Obama won a second term, “the White House said put out the word for further applicants.”

Already, Fischbach said he knows of a few people in the legal community who are interested and are filling out applications.

The initial process began after Ishii informed the White House he planned to take “senior status.” That was in November 2011. Fischbach said the review panel last fall finished its work on the initial batch of applicants.

At that time, the pending election had stopped virtually all work in Washington, including the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is also possible the unknown status of Obama’s reelection may have stopped some people from going through the application process.

Whatever the case, once Obama won, the White House said “let’s open the door again,” Fischbach said.

Now that the word is out, there are at least two or three more people who are interested, Fischbach said.

There is no deadline, though the panel wants to finish its work as soon as possible — hopefully in the next 60 days, Fischbach said.

“But no deadline has been set by either Senator Boxer or the White House,” he added.

Whenever that decision comes, it can’t be soon enough for the Fresno courthouse, which struggles with a per-judge caseload that is at or near tops in the nation.

By taking senior status, Ishii is officially recognized as retired — and his judicial post comes open. But — as others locally have done before him — Ishii is staying on and keeping a full caseload.

This strategy has for well over a decade allowed Fresno to keep a third judge, when it is officially only allotted two positions.

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.

Obama’s 21st CD win shows Valadao could be vulnerable

Hanford Republican David Valadao trounced his financially strapped and listless Democratic Party opponent, John Hernandez, in last November’s 21st Congressional District race, winning by 16 percentage points.

But Democrat Barack Obama, seeking his second term as president, did pretty good himself. He won the district by 11 percentage points — 55% to 44% for Republican Mitt Romney.

Taken together, it means one thing, said Los Angeles political analyst Allan Hoffenblum, a longtime Republican strategist and author of the California Target Book: “This will be a target race” in 2014.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee appears to have picked up on that. It’s already busy attacking Valadao.

In fact, Obama not only won Valadao’s district in 2012, he also won inside those boundaries in 2008 — 52% to 46% over Arizona Sen. John McCain, the GOP candidate. And Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown won more votes inside Valadao’s district lines in 2010, Hoffenblum said.

Using some of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s own criteria, that pretty much makes Valadao’s seat competitive.

Just to the north of Valadao’s 21st District is the 16th District, held by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa. The National Republican Congressional Committee is saying it, too, is a targeted race.

But there’s one big difference in the two districts — Obama also took Costa’s district, winning by 20 percentage points. It’s why, on paper at least, Valadao looks more vulnerable.

Still, in both districts the key is recruiting a viable candidate, which Hoffenblum said is likely in the works now.

Hernandez’s campaign was consistently broke, which made it hard to get out the message. Valadao, by comparison, had a ton of cash and a $600,000 assist from the outside group Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies.

Valadao won, 58% to 42% for Hernandez.

In the 16th District, Costa outspent Fresno Republican Brian Whelan, who never seemed to get traction despite having a decent war chest. Costa won 57.4% of the vote to Whelan’s 42.6%.

But Hernandez and Whelan were never considered first stringers by party leaders. Despite efforts by both Republican and Democratic Party leaders, no heavy hitters stepped up to try and challenge Valadao or Costa.

The question is — can Democrats bring in a true challenger to take on Valadao in the 21st District, and can Republicans do the same in the 16th District?

Del Rey’s Masumoto confirmed to National Council on the Arts

For third-generation Del Rey farmer and award-winning author David Mas Masumoto, it felt like an 11th-hour blur.

On New Year’s Day, the U.S. Senate took on a slew of last-minute confirmations.

There were, among others, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army promotions and Tennessee Valley Authority and State Justice Institute board of directors and Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Advisory

David Mas Masumoto

Board appointments.

Nearly all the way through, Masumoto’s June appointment by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Arts was approved.

Masumoto got an email from the White House the following day. He flies Washington, D.C. in Feb for orientation and to be sworn in. The first formal meeting is in March.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities, but also know the realities,” Masumoto said. “The total (National Endowment for the Arts) budget is small if you compare it with other programs.”

But Masumoto also noted his term is six years — until September 3, 2018 — “so perhaps there’s some time to learn how things are done and navigate through the system.”

Masumoto sees the appointment as a chance to “meet and see the art world from a national perspective.”

At the same time, Masumoto wants to share some of not only California — but the Valley — with the nation.

“California is more than the Bay area and So Cal, and we in the Valley do have our own special art to showcase,” he said. “At least, this is my hope.”

Fresno County updates its vote count; little is changed in races

Fresno County on Friday did its first vote-count update since Tuesday’s election, and not much has changed.

Everybody who was leading on election night is still leading, and no challengers have significantly closed any gaps.

For instance, on election night Republican challenger Mitt Romney had 50.72% of the vote and President Barack Obama was at 47.13%. Now, Romney is at 50.37% and Obama at 47.45%. That means Obama has shaved about two-thirds of a percentage point off of Romney’s initial lead.

Fresno County counted 19,000 absentee ballots and has 78,000 still to count. Of those, around 54,000 are absentee, and the rest provisional.

“It’s going to take us days,” Fresno County Clerk Brandi Orth said.

In Tulare County, around 20,000 absentee and 10,000 provisional ballots remain to be counted, and in Kings, it is 1,500 provisional ballots.

Madera County doesn’t do updates until it completes its count, but Clerk Rebecca Martinez said Friday that around 4850 ballots remain to be counted. Almost half are provisional, with the rest absentee ballots.

The race to watch in Madera County is the District 3 supervisorial race to replace incumbent Ronn Dominici, who chose not to seek re-election after 12 years on the board.

On election night, just eight votes separated Madera City Council Member Gary Svanda and businessman Rick Farinelli, with Svanda holding the slight lead.

Martinez said District 3 has 1,041 absentee ballots and 545 provisional ballots to count.

Political Notebook: Obama has more Valley donors, but Romney has raked in far more cash

In city after city across the central San Joaquin Valley, President Barack Obama has attracted more donors for his reelection campaign than his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney.

But when it comes to the local cash haul, Romney rules.

Take Fresno, for instance. Obama had 2,214 donors with Fresno mailing addresses, while Romney had just 696. But those 696 donors gave Romney $438,050, while Obama’s more than 2,200 contributed $223,716.

The average per donor? It is $629.38 for Romney, and just $101 for Obama.
Across the region, it is similar story — Exeter, Visalia, Kingsburg, Hanford, Madera, Merced mailing addresses all show more Obama donors, but more total money for Romney.

It even holds true in a Republican stronghold like Clovis, where Obama had 455 donors to Romney’s 259, but Romney raised $135,107 to Obama’s $42,700.

Given Romney’s local high-dollar fundraisers, this is hardly surprising. The biggest of them all came in May, when Romney raked in more than $1 million at a fundraiser at the Sanger-area home of prominent west-side rancher John Harris and his wife, Carole.

Obama, by comparison, has never held a Valley fundraiser. All his campaign donations came from local people who took the initiative and sent in a check. The only exception would have been if a local wealthy Democrat attended one of Obama’s Los Angeles or Bay Area fundraisers.