Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) is facing new allegations of odd behavior in the nation’s capital and new opponents who want to unseat him at home in the wake of a House Ethics Committee investigation.
With the primary election still months away, a host of candidates is coming forward with plans to unseat the long-time Republican. For Bobby Bliatout, 41, of Fresno, it’s Nunes’ stance on the health care that prompted him to begin his campaign for the congressional seat.
“I got into the race because of their effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” Bliatout said. “The idea for this one is that I am on the front line of health care. I serve the under-served, and I see how beneficial it is.”
For the last 15 years or so, Bliatout has worked as CEO for a company he founded, Greater Fresno Health Organization, a primary-care clinic serving low-income patients. He holds up his business experience in the private sector against that of Nunes, a career politician.
“It’s not like I applied for a job. I know what it’s like to put it together from the ground up,” Bliatout said. “Life wasn’t always an Easy Street for me. I know what it’s like to get assistance from the government and use it to better myself. It’s not an entitled handout; it’s a hand-me-up.”
The Congressman’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is yet another example of Nunes serving corporate interest
instead of his constituents in the Valley, says Bliatout.
“It wasn’t what was best for the community,” he said. “It was politics.”
That isn’t his only source of frustration with Nunes. When he offered his years of health care experience to Nunes as an advisor, he was rebuffed. That dismissal from the Congressman, he said, was the clincher that pushed him into the political arena.
“I sent a letter to Devin Nunes to say I’d love to serve on a committee of yours for free,” Bliatout said. “If I’m not going to be able to have a voice in that manner, I’m going to run.”
He’s far from alone on the list of candidates who will appear on the June primary ballot. Joining him from the Democratic side will be Andrew Janz, a prosecutor for the Fresno District Attorney’s Office, Fresno OB/GYN Dr. Mallory Kremer, and Clovis resident Ricardo Franco.
Also vying for Nunes’ seat are Bill Merryman of Clovis, a candidate from the Libertarian Party, and Brian Carroll, an educator who will represent the American Solidarity Party in the race.
‘Cruel’ and ‘Unfair’
The way Bliatout sees it, Nunes’ votes against the ACA are not just against the interests of the voters he is supposed to serve, they are also malicious. Nunes, Bliatout says, doesn’t see the ultimate result his behavior in Washington, DC has on people living here.
“I feel it’s being unfair to our community to watch these folks who have been given insurance and have been diagnosed with diabetes and other illnesses, now they have no insurance,” Bliatout said. “I believe that is cruel.”
The solution Bliatout would like to see is a scheme that covers all Americans without a negative financial impact at any level.
“I would like to see a single-payer plan that works for everybody,” he said. “That means it doesn’t affect our economy in a negative way.”
According to estimates, a universal health care program would save the federal government about $600 billion annually. Such a program, however, could increase participation, with more Americans able to seek health care, perhaps driving an increase in overall spending. Bliatout, however, says most people are unaware of the details.
“I’d love to do a town hall because a lot of people need an education,” he said. “A lot of people treat it like a football game. They just take a side.”
Bliatout isn’t the only resident of the 22nd Congressional District who wants a town hall meeting.
On Saturday, dressed in Santa hats, ringing bells, and carrying signs covered in Christmas decorations, a few dozen protesters rallied outside Nunes’s downtown Visalia office, calling for the Congressman to make himself more directly available to constituents.
The demonstration was organized by South Valley Civics, a group of “just common, everyday people who never raised a voice before,” says one of the group’s leaders, Cynthia Thorburn, and was timed to coincide with Congress’s winter break.
“Winter Recess is starting, and where’s our town hall? Where’s our free public forum where we can share our concerns?” Thorburn said. “So, since we can’t have one, we’re sharing our concerns via a little march here.”
Besides being more responsive to the people he represents, members of South Valley Civics are interested in a host of issues effecting the middle class.
Thorburn says they’d like a responsible tax bill, support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which aids middle-income families, and “reasonable and responsible” gun control measures.
They’d also just like Nunes to answer the phone.
“You can’t get into his office without an appointment,” Thorburn said. “They don’t answer their phones or return their messages so you can make an appointment.”
Nunes is just as inaccessible to the local press, though he did speak with Fox News following the end of an investigation into his behavior by the House Committee on Ethics.
That investigation, Nunes said, is a conspiracy between the government and unnamed leftists to hinder him.
“The ethics complaint was a joke from the beginning, designed, purely designed to remove me as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which they were unable to do,” Nunes told Fox. “I think, a clear design from the left, working in conjunction with parts of our government to keep information away from me and the House Intelligence Committee.”
The look into Nunes’ handling of classified materials began when Nunes received classified reports from staff at the White House, then later lied to the press about the incident.
The scandal prompted Nunes to remove himself from the House Intel Committee’s investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 presidential election.
Ironically, Nunes took to the national airwaves to decry what he says is abusive sharing of reports on US surveillance of targets in the Russian-Trump investigation, the same action for which he was investigated.
“I hate to use the word ‘corrupt,’ but they become so dirty that, who is watching the watchmen?” Nunes said. “Who is investigating these people? There is no one.”
Specifically, Nunes is concerned there is no investigation into who leaked a transcript of a conversation between disgraced former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He believes there has been no action by the FBI or the Department of Justice.
House Intel Leak
Nunes also repeated to Fox News the assertion he never truly recused himself from the Russian-Trump investigation.
He said he “temporarily” gave control to Democratic Rep. Michael Conaway, co-chair of the House Intel Committee, and it appears Nunes never stopped his own look into the Steele Dossier, a file listing President Donald Trump’s alleged indiscretions documented by the Russian government as a means of blackmailing him.
The firm that put together that dossier now says Nunes may have leaked private data about it to harm its reputation.
Fusion GPS, the company that compiled the Steele Dossier, told a federal judge last week it believes a subpoena to the firm’s bank signed by Nunes is “part of an ongoing effort to discredit Fusion in retaliation for its role in undertaking research.”
The company also claims information its founder gave during testimony to the House Intel Committee in November was then leaked.
Nunes now intends to send investigators to the FBI and Department of Justice to “scrub” documents they wish to review, and will issue a subpoena to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Nunes has also had meetings about the Russian-Trump connection with Erik Prince, brother of Secretary of Education Betty Devos and founder of Blackwater, a private military contractor.
Prince was questioned last week by the Intel Committee about why he failed to provide documents it had requested.