By Vic Bedoian
Since the election of Donald Trump, Valley progressives have been increasing the political heat on Rep. Devin Nunes (R–Tulare). The representative of California’s 22nd District allied himself with Trump’s election through fund-raising and political support.
Nunes, who chairs the House Select Committee on Intelligence, has come under fire for ethical violations and apparently sharing classified information about possible links between Russian officials and the White House. That bizarre series of incidents resulted in his being forced to recuse himself from the investigation of possible ties to Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Nunes now faces a growing protest movement by his constituents and a credible opponent for his Congressional seat.
Even before Nunes became a household name in the national media for his gaffes and ethical violations, local pressure was building to thwart his reelection. Nancy Griesser has been an active part of an ongoing protest demonstration in front of Nunes’ office in downtown Clovis, “I think there has been a pent-up dissatisfaction with Nunes. But those of us thought we couldn’t do anything about it because of the way the numbers were.”
It won’t be easy. Nunes has been winning elections in this mostly rural district by large margins and is a solid supporter of Trump. His loyalty was repaid after the election with Nunes’ inclusion in the inner circle of the transition team for the President-elect.
But now a candidate has emerged who poses a credible threat to Nunes’ reelection: Andrew Janz. Janz is a Fresno County prosecutor in the violent crimes unit. Valley born and bred, Janz is the son of immigrants from a working-class background. His father was a factory worker and his mother served in a hospital. English is his second language.
Janz rejects the false accusation that the Nunes camp has been projecting about the opposition, “Over the course of the past year, the Congressman hasn’t been meeting with his constituents,” said Janz. Standing with people outside Nunes’ Clovis Avenue, Janz said that “these folks out here have been accused of being paid agitators, [but] they just want the Congressman to listen to what their issues are.”
The every-Tuesday protest has become a meeting ground for opposition to Nunes’ actions and Trump’s policies. It began with Dave and Bev Derby. They live in District 22, but repeated letters and phone calls to Nunes went unanswered. Bev stated that no one in Nunes’ office would deign even to talk to them. So, they took matters into their own hands.
Dave recalled that at first they were alone in their protest vigil, “We started this vigil in late January. Bev and I just came down and sat here with a sign, just the two of us. We had to do something we were so upset about the Trump agenda, we felt we had to do something.
“Then a couple of friends joined us and at that time people got to notice, found out about us, joined us here, and it’s turned into 20, 30 people every Tuesday. It’s a place to come where we can have civil discourse, bring your signs if you’re upset about something and talk with each other. This is democracy!”
On a warm and sunny Tuesday in May, Janz came to meet with constituents, something Nunes has steadfastly refused to do. “Taken as a whole I think the Congressman has been more concerned about defending himself regarding these ethics violations,” says Janz. “He’s under investigation now for mishandling classified information. He’s more concerned about defending himself than he is about these folks here today and folks all across the district.”
Janz said that his desire to work in the public sector came from his father, who was in the Peace Corps. He believes he has a realistic chance of beating the well-funded Nunes, who has strong support in this conservative-leaning district especially in the agribusiness sector and has amassed a war chest of $7 million. “I think based on my experience as a public advocate for the people, a person for public safety, an advocate for violent crime victims that I would be the perfect candidate to take on Devin Nunes and someone who can represent this district.”
On this particular Tuesday, Janz went down the line of protestors standing along the sidewalk, many bearing signs criticizing or ridiculing Nunes and Trump. He conversed with each person about the issues that concern them. Topping those concerns is the repeal of the Affordable Care Act by Republicans in the House of Representatives that Janz asserts would “take away healthcare from millions of Americans and tens of thousands in this district alone. We’re going to lose thousands of healthcare-related jobs as well.” Janz added that Nunes is not talking with constituents about other issues that concern them as well, such as education and water.
Even some Republicans in the area are said to be souring on Nunes and actually working with the Janz campaign. Griesser says the conditions in the district could now be aligned to have a shot at defeating him, “Now we’ve gotten pent-up, and Nunes calling himself out, so that now people realize who he is and how he conducts himself, which I think most people have not known. And that is coming together to say it’s really time to repeal and replace Nunes.”
Janz indicates that he can build a winning coalition across the board in his quest to replace Nunes. “I’m going to talk to everybody,” says Janz. “I’m going to talk to Democrats, I’m going to talk to progressives, independents, moderates and Republicans. I’m going to talk to everybody. Our strategy is to build a coalition, a coalition of people who have shared values.”
Local support groups already have raised more than $14,000 toward the effort to defeat Nunes, but the effort to unseat Nunes will be a long, hard road.
Vic Bedoian is an independent radio and print journalist working on environmental justice and natural resources issues in the San Joaquin Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.