NO, HE HASN’T CHANGED, OTHERS SAY
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.”
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.