Congressman Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), who is seeking reelection to a ninth term in the November midterm election, abandoned a meeting and fled a Visalia coffee shop to avoid speaking with constituents and the press.
Rare Local Sighting
Word of his presence spread quickly when Nunes, who has not held a public forum for constituents in the 22nd Congressional District in nearly two years and is rarely seen outside organized party events, was spotted at the Panera Bread on Mooney Boulevard in Visalia on October 23.
Nunes was seated at a table in the restaurant’s main dining area with three other people, one of whom was Anthony Ratekin, Nunes’ chief of staff. The identity of the other two individuals is unknown.
Nunes did not respond when asked why he failed to acknowledge several requests for interviews by reporters from the Valley Voice during the last two years. Ratekin, however, said he was aware of the unanswered requests to speak with Nunes on the record. He did not say why he and Nunes left the requests unanswered.
Asked directly if he would speak on the record, Nunes declined.
“We’re in a– I’m in a meeting,” Nunes said.
Coffee To Go
Ratekin, who gained notoriety locally for accusing the Fresno Bee of conspiring with “left-wing interest groups” against his boss, said an interview with Nunes could be arranged.
“We can figure out a time that’s better for us,” he said. “Now’s not…”
Ratekin did not complete his sentence. Asked if Nunes intends to host an open forum meeting to talk directly with his constituents, Ratekin again dissembled.
“You can get a hold of me about that too,” he said.
It was at this point Nunes, coffee in hand, left the table.
‘I Just Want to Talk to You’
The congressman, however, was confronted by constituents before he could leave the restaurant.
“Hi! You are a real person,” said Betsy Gaudette-Cross, who attempted to engage Nunes in conversation as he made for the exit.
Nunes did not acknowledge Gaudette-Cross. Neither did Nunes speak with Cynthia Thorburn of South Valley Civics, a protest organization that has held weekly rallies focused on Nunes’ lack of accessibility. Thorburn came to confront Nunes when after learning he was at the south Visalia restaurant.
“I’m going to be 65 soon,” she told Nunes as he left. “I’m worried about my healthcare. I’m worried about my Social Security.”
Nunes made no response, and Thorburn followed him and Ratekin into the parking lot.
“Congressman, please, don’t walk away from me,” Thorburn called after Nunes as he moved hurriedly to his car. “I’m worried about my healthcare. Why are you walking away? I don’t want to embarrass you; I just want to talk to you.”
Nunes, leaving Ratekin behind, reached his car, a gray Chevrolet sedan, and left the area.
After Nunes had departed, Ratekin questioned Thorburn about her previous attempts to speak with Nunes. She’s been trying to arrange a meeting with Nunes to discuss healthcare and Social Security issues for at least two years, she said.
Ratekin told Thorburn a discussion about her concerns could be arranged now that he was aware she wished to speak to someone. The previously ignored requests for a meeting, he said, were perhaps an oversight.
“If there’s an issue, a mess-up, then we’ll– If there was an issue on our end I’m sorry and we’ll look into it,” Ratekin said.
He did not say if Nunes would meet personally with Thorburn. Ratekin insisted, however, that a meeting of some kind would be forthcoming.
“Now that I’ve got your name and where you live, we can look into it,” he said. “We pride ourselves on getting back to people.”