I've only recently become acquainted with Representative Devin Nunes, who hails from California's 21st Congressional District, in the southeastern corner of the Central Valley--big pieces of Fresno and Tulare counties. Nunes came to my attention for his authorship of a bill that would ban cutbacks in federal water shipments from Northern California to his part of the state. The cutbacks he targeted are designed to save endangered fish species, and Nunes's proposal would allow limits to preserve the fish only if the amount of water shipped south equaled or exceeded the historical maximum. A nice Orwellian touch.
Nunes showed up on our television screen today when we started flipping channels between the NCAA basketball tournament and the C-SPAN coverage of the House health-care vote. During one such channel-changing excursion, Nunes was featured talking about the issue of the day. I just went back and played the online video version of the interview he did, and I guess it's good to know in a way that his on-the-fringe tactics on water are matched by extremist views on other issues.
During the course of the 29-minute interview, he matter-of-factly declared four times that Democrats were using "totalitarian tactics" (or "crazy totalitarian tactics") to not just enact health-care legislation but to "usher in a new era of socialism." Early on, the rather milquetoast-y interviewer asked Nunes about incidents Saturday in which demonstrators opposed to the legislation hurled anti-gay and racist epithets at Democratic congressmen.
Nunes's response? As the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn, among others, noted:
Q. Can you give us a sense of the flavor of the debate on the floor and what you're hearing? A lot of angry comments yesterday aimed at a couple of your colleagues including Barney Frank and Congressman John Lewis using the N-word as some of the protesters jeered at him as he walked through the halls of the Capitol.
A. Well, I think that when you, when you use totalitarian tactics people begin to act crazy. I think there's people that have every right to say what they want. If they want to smear someone, they can do it--it's not appropriate--and I think I'd stop short of characterizing the 20,000 people who were protesting that all of them were doing that. ... I think the left loves to play up a couple incidents here or there, anything to draw attention away from what they are really doing.
Nunes got off a couple of other beauties during the interview. To one veteran who said he loved having government-run health care to cope with his health issues, Nunes essentially said care for veterans is too expensive and the guy shouldn't expect to be taken care of. He also hews to the ultra-right GOP rhetoric that suggests if big government would just get out of the way, state and local governments could take care of people the way God and the Founding Fathers intended (note to the congressman: Be careful what you wish for. Where do you think all those water projects your folks depend on came from? Also: Have you checked on the condition of the state and local governments recently? They're begging Washington for help.)
It all made me wonder who this guy represents and what in the world they're thinking when they send someone like this to Washington. How is it that he feels so safe to so complacently utter such on-the-edge beliefs?
A little quick research on the 21st District:
--In January, California had a statewide unemployment rate of 12.5 percent. That's low compared to Nunes's district. Fresno County had an 18.2 percent rate for the month; Tulare County was at 18.3 percent. Here's the jobless rate percentage for some of the bigger towns in the 21st District:
--The district is 71 percent white, 2.4 percent black. Maybe that's why it's no big deal for people to blow off steam using the "N-word." Here's a stat that puts the "white" number in perspective, though: 48.5 percent of the residents identify themselves as Hispanic or Latino, and more than 90 percent of that group is of Mexican ancestry. Just 40.6 percent identify themselves as "white only."
--20 percent of the district's population is foreign-born, and one-third of that group are naturalized U.S. citizens.
--About 57 percent of the 18-and-over population is registered--though because of the high number of foreign-born in the district, that's not necessarily a reflection of eligible registrations. Voter registration is 46.6 percent Republican, 34.8 percent Democrat.
None of these numbers explain this guy. More reading into the Nunes files later.