NO, HE HASN’T CHANGED, OTH­ERS SAY

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - News - Rory Appleton is a fourth-gen­er­a­tion Fres­nan and grad­u­ate of Fresno State. He cov­ers pol­i­tics in the cen­tral San Joaquin Val­ley. Since 2016, his work has earned six Cal­i­for­nia News Pub­lish­ers As­so­ci­a­tion awards, in­clud­ing best in­ves­tiga­tive and best in-de

Clo­vis Mayor Bob Whalen has a bit of a per­sonal stake in this year’s 22nd Dis­trict elec­tion. The long­time Nunes sup­porter is also Demo­cratic chal­lenger An­drew Janz’s su­per­vi­sor at the Fresno County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice.

Al­though com­pli­men­tary of Janz’s work as a pros­e­cu­tor and drive to serve, Whalen re­mains a stead­fast Nunes sup­porter.

“He rec­og­nizes our Val­ley has a back­bone of agri­cul­ture, and that’s right in his wheel­house,” Whalen said.

Whalen praised Nunes as a fis­cal con­ser­va­tive who has not been afraid to op­pose rub­ber stamps and peo­ple pulling him in par­tic­u­lar di­rec­tions.

Much of the neg­a­tiv­ity sur­round­ing Nunes is ac­tu­ally due to ha­tred of Trump or the dif­fi­cult na­ture of Nunes’ role as head of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, Whalen added.

“Devin has not changed, but his cir­cum­stances have changed,” Whalen said. “The Devin I knew when he was first elected has the ex­act same val­ues and prin­ci­ples as this Devin.”

What has changed, Whalen pointed out, is the po­si­tion Nunes now finds him­self in on the na­tional stage.

Whalen de­scribed a visit he and sev­eral other Fresno County lead­ers made to Nunes’ Wash­ing­ton of­fice shortly af­ter the con­gress­man was named to Trump’s tran­si­tion team.

They had questions about the new pres­i­dent, but Nunes quickly fo­cused their gaze on a na­tional agenda that he and other Repub­li­can lead­ers could now push with con­trol of Congress and the pres­i­dency.

Nunes had be­gun to fo­cus on tax re­form, “shar­ing a vi­sion” of how it could be with this new con­trol. And he got it done, Whalen said, not­ing that the tax re­form bill passed in 2017 was es­sen­tially the same doc­u­ment as Nunes had ex­plained to them in 2016.

The “vi­sion” also in­cluded a re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act, which failed in Congress but was trimmed slightly by the afore­men­tioned tax plan.

Nunes had be­gun to think big­ger, telling the lo­cal lead­er­ship co­hort what these large, sweep­ing re­forms would do for Val­ley res­i­dents.

Even Whalen, how­ever, has no­ticed one small change in Nunes’ be­hav­ior since the 2016 elec­tion.

“Some things have got­ten un­der his skin lately, and that’s un­for­tu­nate,” Whalen said. “His ap­proach is to get de­fen­sive when ap­proached with neg­a­tives, but who am I to ques­tion that?”

Oth­ers are happy to ques­tion that.

Ar­men Deve­jian is an ar­chi­tect who is mov­ing back to Clo­vis af­ter a few years away from the Val­ley. He also is a life­long Repub­li­can who worked on Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns, vol­un­teered on Ge­orge W. Bush’s cam­paigns and served on a state ad­vi­sory group for ju­ve­nile jus­tice un­der Repub­li­can Govs. Pete Wil­son and Ge­orge Deuk­me­jian.

He also hates Nunes. “He has be­trayed ev­ery oath he has taken,” Deve­jian said. “There’s been no re­sponse to his con­stituents – no town hall where I can say, ‘I’ve voted for you, I’ve sup­ported you and I have some questions.’”

Chief among these questions, Deve­jian said, is why Nunes con­tin­ues to sup­port Trump “over (Nunes’) con­sti­tu­tional duty to pro­vide a check and bal­ance to (the) ex­ec­u­tive.”

Deve­jian de­scribed Trump as “hos­tile to ed­u­ca­tion, sci­ence, tol­er­ance and open thought while em­brac­ing ig­no­rance, trib­al­ism and xeno­pho­bia.”

He said Trump, Nunes and the cur­rent Repub­li­can party have left him and other con­ser­va­tives be­hind by dam­ag­ing the free mar­ket with tar­iffs and agri­cul­tural bailouts while also mov­ing away from the fam­ily val­ues that drew him to “the party of Lin­coln, Roo­sevelt, Eisen­hower and Rea­gan.”

Deve­jian, who said he voted for Nunes in each of the last three elec­tions, planned to vote against Nunes in protest no mat­ter who ran against. But he has since come to sup­port Janz for his crim­i­nal jus­tice back­ground and value sys­tem, even though he dis­agrees with many of the can­di­date’s eco­nomic stances.

“Your con­gress­man is your clos­est tie to Wash­ing­ton,” Deve­jian said. “It’s way more per­sonal than the re­la­tion­ship to your pres­i­dent or even your gov­er­nor. I worked for two gover­nors, and I felt no per­sonal re­la­tion­ship to them.”

He con­tin­ued: “But our con­gress­man is hos­tile to his con­stituents and his home­town news­pa­per. And he feels like he can get away with this, as if there’s no penalty for treat­ing your con­stituents with such bla­tant dis­re­gard.”

Deve­jian does not be­lieve this is any­thing new for Nunes.

“I don’t think (Nunes) has changed at all,” Deve­jian added. “I think he’s al­ways been this way.”

As­sem­bly­man Devon Mathis, a Visalia Repub­li­can, has per­haps as much rea­son to dis­like Nunes as any­one in Tu­lare County. By Mathis’ count, Nunes has spent roughly $300,000 sup­port­ing chal­lengers to knock his fel­low Repub­li­can out of the State Assem­bly.

Nunes has es­tab­lished him­self as a mas­ter fundraiser, rais­ing about $20 mil­lion so far in his con­gres­sional ca­reer – though much of that money comes from out­side his rel­a­tively poor dis­trict. Ac­cord­ing to Open Se­crets, nearly $8 mil­lion came from po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees. As he rou­tinely walks to vic­tory, he is free to spread mil­lions to both na­tional and lo­cal cam­paigns and causes.

Mathis is one of sev­eral Tu­lare County can­di­dates to sur­vive the would-be king­maker’s check­book, but he main­tains there are no hard feel­ings – even say­ing he looks up to Nunes.

“Po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns are po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns,” Mathis said. “You shake it off af­ter the race. We have con­tin­ued to work well to­gether on con­stituent is­sues. I send them to him for fed­eral is­sues, and he sends them down to me for state is­sues.”

Mathis said he’s “al­ways kind of looked up to Nunes,” who he said has worked hard for Val­ley wa­ter. Progress on wa­ter has, how­ever, been lim­ited due to “Sacra­mento Democrats,” he added.

Mathis dis­missed the no­tion of­ten put for­ward by Nunes crit­ics that he is too in­volved in the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion and not fo­cused on the Val­ley.

He said com­mit­tee work takes up a lot of an elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive’s time. When Nunes was on the agri­cul­ture or ways and means com­mit­tees, Mathis said, he fought for is­sues rel­e­vant to those po­si­tions. Nunes’ cau­cus trusted him to lead the im­por­tant In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, so it’s only nat­u­ral he fo­cus on is­sues brought be­fore him in that ca­pac­ity.

Mathis pointed to Nunes’ reg­u­lar at­ten­dance at wa­ter ral­lies and his con­gres­sional Face­book page, which some­times shares photos of Nunes tour­ing ag fa­cil­i­ties or fam­i­lies who have vis­ited his of­fice in Wash­ing­ton, as ev­i­dence that Nunes does still care about his con­stituents.

“Look, he’s my con­gress­man,” Mathis said. “I re­spect the guy. We’re Repub­li­cans. We’re here for each other. That’s how it’s sup­posed to be. It’s Rea­gan’s 11th Com­mand­ment: Don’t talk ill of a fel­low Repub­li­can.”

“We need him,” Mathis con­tin­ued. “There’s a lot of work to be done in this state.”

Fresno Bee file photo

In March 2002, Devin Nunes thanks his sup­port­ers at a Visalia rally along­side his dad, An­thony, af­ter wrap­ping up the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in his con­gres­sional dis­trict race. Nunes went on in Novem­ber to se­cure the seat that he’s held ever since.

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