By Daniel O’Connell, Hope Nisly and Paul Buxman
The last thing voters see as they cast their ballots is the candidate’s ballot designation. As a result, the identification has weighted significance over the choices made by voters. Because of this potential influence, state law bars misleading ballot representations and requires a candidate’s self-identification to be technically accurate.
By law, the ballot designation must describe an occupation of the candidate that involves a “substantial involvement of time and effort such that the activity is one of the primary, main or leading professional, vocational or occupational endeavors of the candidate,” and it must generally be one for which the candidate has received compensation.
Devin Nunes, candidate for Congressional District 22 has chosen “U.S. Representative/Farmer” as his ballot representation. On his ballot designation worksheet submitted to the Tulare County Registrar of Voters, he justified his representation in writing, “Current Representative of CD 22 and partner in 2 farming operations.” Yet, he has not worked in farming for at least 10 years and conflates being an investor with working as a farmer.
By Nunes’ own admission, the sole basis for his claim of being a farmer is his status as a passive investor in two wineries. All told, he apparently received only $2,501–$5,000 in unearned income over 10 years from these investments. And according to his financial disclosures, he did not receive any earned income from either of these ventures. (Although it might be appropriate in this case to call Nunes an “investor,” he is no more a “farmer” than someone who owns stock in Apple Inc. is a “software engineer.”)
Nunes even distanced himself from these wineries when he felt it expedient. For example, during a 2016 lawsuit involving cocaine and prostitution on one of the winery’s yachts, Nunes declared that he was “simply…one of the investors.”
Under the state election code, any elector can seek a writ of mandate alleging that an error or omission is about to occur in the printing of a ballot. In August of this year, we petitioned the court that such an error or omission had occurred. Final legal determinations have yet to be made in the case. It will be adjudicated after the election and will clarify the issue for future ballot representations by Nunes.
The crux of our complaint is that Rep. Nunes has misled the voters of his district. To be a farmer in the Central Valley, where agriculture is the predominant industry, is to be in a position of power and influence. Voters often refer to his occupation to claim that Nunes is “one of us” and to explain why they believe they can trust him.
Since filing the suit, it has become even more apparent that Nunes’ direct relationship to our rural communities is tenuous, at best. A September 2018 Esquire article revealed that the Nunes family farm, with which he has no connection beyond the familial one, relocated from California to Iowa in 2006. The obfuscation of this move by the Nunes family becomes even more troubling with the revelation that they may have hired undocumented laborers while Rep. Nunes actively supports actions targeting immigrants.
After 10 years away from farming and his district, it is apparent that Nunes no longer understands, represents or is interested in Valley interests. He has not held a town hall in his district since 2010. He refuses to speak with a majority of his constituents, even appearing to be fearful to meet publicly in his own district.
Perhaps he is aware of how his policy positions sit in direct opposition to the interests of the people in the 22nd Congressional District. From immigration and labor to tariffs and trade, to water and air quality, to poverty and healthcare, Nunes has ignored or opposed the Valley’s interests and issues.
Since he has been in Washington, dramatic demographic changes have taken place in this district. He is now out of touch with his constituents and the issues that they face daily. Although he might have started out with hope of representing his district, Nunes has since drifted away, becoming more and more inaccessible and disconnected. He has chosen to represent Washington and special interests rather than his own district and constituents.
Daniel O’Connell is a farm advocate and scholar of the San Joaquin Valley, Hope Nisly is an academic librarian who lives in Reedley and Paul Buxman is a California clean farmer and plein air artist.