Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

For some, conservative Nunes isn’t conservative enough on shutdown

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.

Letter seeking Delta-pumping bill support exposes sticky water politics

To Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson, it was the easiest vote in the world.

He wanted his colleagues to approve sending a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, asking her support a House resolution that seeks more Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water for the Valley’s west side.

But, as with so much else in politics, the request turned out to be anything but simple.

Phil Larson

Larson’s initial motion passed 3-0 — but Supervisors Andreas Borgeas and Debbie Poochigian abstained. They wanted the mull it over and, for Borgeas, to check with other members of the Valley’s congressional delegation before backing the letter.

The bill has been introduced by Fresno Democrat Jim Costa. But Borgeas noted that in the past few years Tulare Republican Devin Nunes had also introduced legislation that would increase delta pumping — including one last year that passed the House but died in the Senate.

Larson was frustrated. How could politics seep into a request so simple?

The board, he felt, should support all efforts — be they Republican or Democrat — to bring more water to the Valley’s west side.

Still, he agreed to the delay — just a few hours until the afternoon.

At issue is Costa’s H.R. 1927, which would tweak existing management plans — known as biological opinions — covering threatening Delta smelt and endangered salmon to allow more pumping.

Andreas Borgeas

Johnny Amaral, Nunes’ chief-of-staff, says Nunes’ 2009 effort was almost identical to Costa’s, but Costa’s people say the current effort is more nuanced in that it wouldn’t eliminate the biological opinions.

Nunes’ 2009 effort would have suspended the biological opinions and set pumping levels at 100% of the contracted amounts annually. Democrats controlled the House at the time. The effort went nowhere.

But Nunes had better luck last year, with the Republicans in control. He succeeded in passing an ambitious, pro-agriculture water bill that would have significantly increased water deliveries to the Valley’s west side.

Both Feinstein and fellow California Sen. Barbara Boxer, however, were opposed to the legislation It died in the Senate.

“The fact of the matter is if Democrats in the House and Senate actually cared about a reliable water supply, they would have supported language to allow the pumps to run when the it was offered in 2009,” Amaral said.

Rep. Devin Nunes

“It’s all just a big game to them, playing to their radical environmentalist pals. To quote Yogi Berra, its ‘deja vu all over again.’ Except now, communities and families are being devastated for no good reason. It’s time for the Senate to follow the leadership displayed in the House and do something useful — for once.”

For starters, he said the Senate should pass its own legislation so both sides can have a starting position for negotiations. Costa’s bill messes that up, he said, because it changes the House’s already established position.

“It’s like we’re negotiating with ourselves right now,” he said.

Costa has a different outlook. His strategy is for the House to pass something that has a chance to get through the Senate. He believes his current bill does that.

Which brings it all back around to the Fresno County Supervisors.

Rep. Jim Costa

They reconvened Tuesday afternoon and debated just what the letter to Feinstein should say.

Borgeas’ suggestion was that it say the board supports not only Costa’s current bill, but recognize other efforts, too, including ones “approved by the House but that have not yet been approved by the Senate.”

It is important, Borgeas said, to give recognition to Nunes’ efforts.

Supervisor Henry R. Perea then chimed in, saying that language went too far and “starts making it partisan.”

So the specific reference to being “approved by the House” but “not yet approved by the Senate” was eliminated, and the final wording only referenced current and past efforts to increase westside water deliveries.

The letter was finally approved — 5-0.

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.”