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.

Proposed fix for Drinking Water Program fades behind political scene

The proposal to replace California Department of Public Health as guardian for the state’s drinking water quietly slipped away last week, dying in a committee. Assembly Bill 145 didn’t even come to a vote in the state Senate.

Drinking water advocates and many people living in small San Joaquin Valley towns are disappointed over the failure of the bill, which never came out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Small-town residents must buy bottled water to replace tainted tap water.

AB 145, introduced by Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, would have moved the Drinking Water Program responsibilities to the State Water Resources Control Board, an enforcement agency that already deals with dirty water throughout the state.

The California Department of Public Health administers the program that is known in the Valley as a foot-dragging bureaucracy.

But the agency had support from larger California cities and the Association of California Water Agencies. The water association said the water program works well in many places and needed a more “targeted approach” to solve problems. Their opposition to AB 145 had been clear in the last few months.

Thousands of residents in poor Valley communities have suffered with tainted water as their towns waded through years of bureaucratic red tape at the department of public health.

For those residents, this was like another rebuff on a technicality, say advocates.

“This bill was a game-changer that would have had long-term benefits for communities that are ignored under the current system,” said Maria Herrera, community advocate for the Visalia-based Community Water Center.

Under the Department of Public Health, funding applications for feasibility studies take years. This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanded a spending plan for $455 million of unused federal money entrusted to the department.

Public health officials responded with a spending plan, saying they are streamlining their efforts to move faster.

Judge reverses direction, farmers will see water rules sooner

A Sacramento Superior Court judge reversed direction on an agriculture lawsuit challenging new farm groundwater rules, meaning thousands of farmers probably will see the rules and expenses this year.

In case you haven’t been following it, this is the end of the historic waiver for agriculture from these kinds of water rules.

Sacramento Judge Timothy Frawley hinted in a tentative decision earlier this year that he might delay the rules and require a rewrite of the environmental studies.

Late last week, he said the studies are acceptable.

That affects growers in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties where farm production amounts to $15 billion annually. The rules will cost farmers about $1.90 per acre, the state estimates, but farm-water leaders figure it’s a range from $3 to $10 per acre.

We’re talking about 850,000 acres of land, so the total costs could range from $1.6 million (the state’s estimate) to more than $8 million (farm-water leaders’ estimate).

“We are gearing up in anticipation that the (rules) will be adopted and implementation will begin in the fall, but that too is very fluid,” said Dave Orth, general manager of the Kings River Conservation District and coordinator of a coalition representing farmers in the region.

The judge also upheld a challenge by the fishing and environmental water advocacy groups. But the rules will not be set aside while the state addresses the technical issue concerning the transition to the new rules.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has been working on these rules for years. Farmers have been dreading them. Environmentalists have been getting impatient waiting for them.

Underground water contamination is widespread in this region with nitrates from fertilizers, septic systems, sewage treatment and decomposing vegetation. Drinking water is threatened for 250,000 people, mostly in small towns.

Environmental and fishing groups wanted more from the new rules, but most of their claims were rejected. The court agreed with one contention: State law was not followed in granting an extension of a temporary ag waiver several years ago.

California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, a group involved in the legal action, said the regional board needs to penalize offenders and reward those who follow the rules.

Bill Jennings, executive director of Stockton-based Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said: “We work with farmers, understand their concerns and likely could amicably resolve our issues except for the water board’s costly, unwieldy and ineffective bureaucratic octopus.”

Tulare Assembly Member Conway holds Staples Center fundraiser

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare has close to two years left in the Assembly, but that isn’t stopping her from looking at what could be her next political step.

And it is a step that is far, far down the line.

Conway is holding a $2,500 per person fundraiser tonight at the swanky Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. She has rented a suite for the Lakers basketball game versus the Memphis Grizzlies.

The money is for her 2018 state Senate account — though she’s nowhere near making any sort of commitment to an actual run.

“Her main focus is here in the Assembly, and that has not changed,” spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart said.

In fact, it isn’t even known if she’ll run.

Conway is termed out of the Assembly at the end of next year, but she now lives in the state Senate district of fellow Republican Jean Fuller of Bakersfield.

There’s no way Conway will challenge Fuller, and Fuller doesn’t term out of office until 2018.

This year, Conway will turn 63.

She could opt to retire and use the money to help other candidates or causes.

Group to build Tulare cheese plant

The mood at Tulare City Hall is one of cautious optimism because a group of food industry veterans is proposing to build a cheese processing plant that would employ 220 people at good wages.

“Anytime you get 220 jobs in Tulare, and these aren’t minimum wage jobs, I can support that,” said Mayor David Macedo.

The average wage would be about $46,000 per year plus benefits, Calicheese Company LLC told the city.

City officials are being careful not to get too excited because high-profile projects sometimes fail.

But last week, Calicheese .signed an agreement promising to buy 59 acres of city property for about $2 million, or $35,000 an acre. The company has six months to get its financing together.

The proposed 300,000 square foot plant would open in 2015.

It’s a dream site for a milk processor because Tulare’s waste water treatment plant is next door and accepts “high strength” effluent, so Calicheese won’t have build a pre-treatment facility, said Lew Nelson, public works director.

Tulare is in the heart of dairy country and is home to six milk processing plants: Haagen-Daz, Land O’ Lakes, Morningstar, Kraft and two Saputo cheese plants. Calicheese’s chief operating officer Daryl Boddicker is a former Kraft Foods executive who helped launch the Tulare plant.

A bonus for the city is that its $700,000 environmental impact report, written for a meat processing plant at the same site that was never built, can now be put to use.

Calicheese can use the report because the environmental impacts are similar and the report is less than five years old, said Traci Myers, economic development director.

Haven’t paid your state taxes? You could lose your license!

Photo via visualphotos.com

More than a dozen Valley business owners have the unfortunate distinction of being on the latest quarterly edition of debtors who owe the most in past-due sales and use taxes to the state Board of Equalization.

Of 500 debtors on the list released Friday, 14 are from Fresno, Madera, and Tulare counties. Their debts range from about $454,000 to more than $3.1 million, and the oldest dates back nearly 20 years.

To put additional bite into the list, state law requires the Board of Equalization to provide the Top 500 list to other state agencies. Taxpayers on the list can be subject to penalties that affect any state licenses they may have, including driver’s licenses, occupational or professional licenses, and they may be barred from entering into contracts with state agencies.

Here’s the list for the fourth quarter of 2012, along with the amounts owed and the first lien date reported by the state:

  • Central Valley Food Services Inc., dba Jack in the Box, Fresno — $3,110,382 (2008)
  • Kings Drywall Inc., dba Kings Drywall Supply, Selma — $2,569,114 (2011)
  • Up-Right Inc., Madera — $1,598,993 (2011)
  • Partnership of Linda R. Wade and Mark William Wade, dba Grandma’s Kitchen, Fresno — $1,091,693 (1993)
  • Curt’s Auto Repair Inc., dba Oakhurst Shell Oil Co., Oakhurst — $939,894 (2001)
  • Bob Silva Ford, Fresno — $654,095 (2010)
  • Plasencia Incorporated, dba Mario’s Auto Sales, Cutler — $624,643 (2008)
  • Mario Plasencia, Dinuba — $620,768 (2010)
  • Partnership of Gregory D. Gonzales and Roger Paul Toschi, dba Vernon’s Chevron Service, Madera — $619,934 (2008)
  • Savino Navarro Lara, Firebaugh — $596,100 (2002)
  • Jack Dubeau Champ Chevrolet Buick Inc., dba Champion Chevrolet Buick, Firebaugh — $553,369 (2005)
  • John Bernard Dubeau, Fresno — $550,784 (2008)
  • Roger Rose, Tulare — $457,773 (2012)
  • Ameriwest Inc., Visalia — $454,305 (2010)

Something new this quarter from the Board of Equalization is an interactive map that shows the location of each debtor among the Top 500.

The Board of Equalization issues the Top 500 list every quarter. Businesses on the list are notified 30 days in advance, giving them a chance to settle their debt or set up an installment program. Amounts that are paid through installments, or are in the midst of bankruptcy, litigation or appeals, are not included on the list.

Oliver North to speak at Ag Warriors in Tulare

Oliver North, the ex-Marine, author, columnist and host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel, will be the keynote speaker at the Ag Warriors benefit during farm show week, on Feb. 13, 2013.

Earlier this year, Ag Warriors got off to big start when former President George W. Bush spoke at the first fundraiser for Ag Warriors, a program that links veterans with careers in agriculture.

North, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, served 22 years as a Marine and his awards include the silver star, bronze star for valor and two purple hearts.

He burst on to the public stage in the mid-80s by testifying before Congress regarding the Iran-Contra scandal, garnering significant public support.

Tickets: www.InternationalAgriCenter.org or (559) 688-1030.