Nunes tried to scare these Val­ley cit­i­zens with a law­suit, but it didn’t work

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY PAUL BUXMAN, HOPE NISLY AND DANIEL O’CON­NELL

In Au­gust 2018, we pe­ti­tioned the courts to re­quire Devin Nunes, the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Cal­i­for­nia's Con­gres­sional District 22, to re­move “farmer” from his bal­lot des­ig­na­tion and re­place it with an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of his oc­cu­pa­tion. Call­ing one­self a farmer in Cal­i­for­nia's Cen­tral Val­ley is a pow­er­ful and per­sua­sive term, one that eas­ily sways vot­ers.

Hon­esty is an im­por­tant qual­ity for an elected of­fi­cial, be­gin­ning with the bal­lot des­ig­na­tion and con­tin­u­ing with all that a pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tive does while in of­fice. With our law­suit, we were ask­ing Con­gress­man Nunes to dis­play the in­tegrity that we be­lieve all rep­re­sen­ta­tives should show. Though the court de­ferred to the po­si­tion of Cal­i­for­nia's sec­re­tary of state in its first verdict, we main­tained our orig­i­nal dec­la­ra­tion and ap­pealed the de­ci­sion. Only af­ter run­ning out of funds were we com­pelled to with­drawal from the ini­tial law­suit.

Then, on Aug. 1 of this year, in an un­nec­es­sary and puni­tive ac­tion, Rep. Nunes' cam­paign com­mit­tee filed a claim ac­cus­ing us of civil con­spir­acy and in­ter­fer­ence with the cam­paign's eco­nomic ad­van­tage. We rec­og­nized this as a vin­dic­tive ac­tion, clearly de­signed to threaten us and in­tim­i­date other res­i­dents, cit­i­zens and vot­ers. The mes­sage: no one should dare to ques­tion the con­gress­man or mean­ing­fully en­gage in the elec­toral process. Against com­mon sense and long-stand­ing demo­cratic val­ues, a United States con­gress­man was fil­ing a law­suit in a pur­pose­ful ef­fort to in­tim­i­date vot­ers. We rec­og­nized that the aim was to sti­fle our con­sti­tu­tional rights to free speech and si­lence any­one else from pe­ti­tion­ing the courts for re­dress.

The claims from the Nunes cam­paign were at best lu­di­crous, and at worst, ex­plic­itly un­demo­cratic ac­tions taken by a pow­er­ful of­fi­cial against the lo­cal res­i­dents he is charged with rep­re­sent­ing in the fed­eral govern­ment. It should be clear to politi­cians, from the mo­ment they be­gin their bid for of­fice, that they will be scru­ti­nized and, when nec­es­sary, crit­i­cized. That is an im­por­tant part of our demo­cratic sys­tem. The ac­tions and state­ments of our political of­fi­cials are an im­por­tant win­dow into their per­sonal char­ac­ter and political views. With the re­cent law­suit against us, we un­der­stood that we were be­ing at­tacked in an ef­fort to scare us from voic­ing our con­cerns, and to thwart oth­ers from ac­tively ques­tion­ing or par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­toral process and our democ­racy as a whole.

The three of us are cit­i­zens, vot­ers, and long­time res­i­dents of the Cen­tral Val­ley. We care deeply about the is­sues fac­ing peo­ple of this re­gion. Paul Buxman is a fam­ily farmer, who cul­ti­vates tree fruit on his farm even in re­tire­ment. His peaches and nectarines end up on the shelves of the gro­cery stores. Hope Nisly is a li­brar­ian who be­lieves that ac­cess to ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, free­dom of speech, and the right to pe­ti­tion the govern­ment are cor­ner­stones of our demo­cratic sys­tem. Daniel O'Con­nell is a farm ad­vo­cate and agrar­ian scholar who works to build an eco­nom­i­cally eq­ui­table and eco­log­i­cally sta­ble food sys­tem.

We are all mem­bers of his­toric peace churches — both in the Men­non­ite and Quaker tra­di­tions. Our foun­da­tional com­mit­ments to the prac­tice of non­vi­o­lence in­ti­mately con­nects us to achiev­ing so­cial jus­tice and ne­ces­si­tates stances of in­tegrity in our per­sonal con­duct and pub­lic ac­tions. We there­fore en­tered into the orig­i­nal law­suit only af­ter a pe­riod of dis­cern­ment and re­flec­tion. Our fi­nal de­ci­sion to pro­ceed with le­gal ac­tion was founded upon our shared aware­ness of ris­ing threats to the demo­cratic val­ues that un­der­gird our political sys­tem, se­cure our con­sti­tu­tional rights and main­tain our pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. In an era of lies and false­hoods em­a­nat­ing from elected lead­ers, we choose to speak truth to power.

Scare tac­tics do not and will not work when fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples are at stake. Con­gress­man Nunes will either rep­re­sent the pub­lic's best in­ter­ests or he will be voted out of of­fice. Our coun­try is still a democ­racy. We ask the con­gress­man to stop bul­ly­ing his con­stituents, to show up in his district, to par­tic­i­pate in town halls, to openly en­gage lo­cal vot­ers, to re­frain from at­tack­ing news­pa­pers, and to rep­re­sent us — all of us. As an elected of­fi­cial he can­not be­lieve that we owe him his po­si­tion — he needs to earn and de­serve it by be­ing a bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Ed­i­tor’s note: On Sept. 3 the cam­paign for Devin Nunes dropped the law­suit against the trio.

Con­trib­uted photo

The three Val­ley res­i­dents who were sued by Rep. Devin Nunes: Hope Nisly, left, Paul Buxman, cen­ter, and Daniel O’Con­nell.

Devin Nunes

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