What an Explosive Story About Devin Nunes’ Family Farm Means for His High-Profile House Race

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)Bill Clark/ZUMA Press

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Yesterday, Esquire dropped a story exposing a “politically explosive secret” about Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.)—one that he and his family have been harboring for more than decade. Nunes’ oft-repeated origin story is that he’s a local boy with a firsthand understanding of the needs of his Central California district because he, like many of his constituents, is a farmer, whose deep roots in the district run through his family’s farm in Tulare County. This family dairy farm is routinely mentioned in interviews and profiles with Nunes; reporters often tour the farm with him (the Wall Street Journal visited in July).
But Esquire‘s Ryan Lizza discovered “the Nunes family dairy of political lore” no longer exists, at least not in the way it’s been pitched to the public. The family sold its main farm in 2006 and soon afterward moved its operation to Sibley, Iowa. (The California farm that reporters are taken to appears to belong to his uncle.) Even as Nunes has aligned with President Donald Trump and his most controversial immigration policies, his family’s farm reportedly relies on undocumented immigrants for labor. And the farm’s district is represented by Rep. Steve King, one of Congress’ most openly racist immigration opponents. (Nunes and his office have not commented on the article yet.)
Lizza’s rollicking story describes how he was followed and monitored and his sources were harassed as he investigated Nunes, who’s best known outside his district for using his position as chair of the House Intelligence Committee to run defense for Trump, lambast the media, and hype the so-called “deep state.” But will an article in a glossy New York men’s magazine make any difference to the voters in California’s 22nd District?
“I don’t believe so,” says Mariann Hedstrom, chairman of the Tulare County Republican Party. “Most people know the Nunes family history. They know his parents and his brother are no longer in Tulare County, but there are still Nunes family members who are involved in agriculture in the valley.”
Similarly, Fred Vanderhoof, chair of the Fresno County Republican Party Central Committee, says the piece is “not a news story.” “People in this area who know Devin know his family left years ago. Devin is still involved in agriculture and has relatives who farm in the area. I don’t think it’s a major issue.”
Even Andrew Janz, the 34-year-old Democratic prosecutor running against Nunes, says “everyone in the district has known” the family farm moved to Iowa years ago. However, he thinks voters will take issue with the “hypocrisy” he sees in the Nunes family hiring undocumented immigrants while Nunes champions hardline anti-immigration policies. “People want to make sure we have a congressman that is not hypocritical. In this circumstance, we have one who has sided with Trump on every immigration policy, including separating families and deporting undocumented immigrants,” Janz says. “But somehow Devin and his family don’t have a problem hiring undocumented workers.”
With the election a little more than a month away, says Thomas Holyoke, a political science professor at Fresno State University, most voters have made up their minds. (Polls show Nunes with a comfortable lead.) These revelations are unlikely to change them, he says. “I don’t think this is actually going to be a big deal. The dynamics of the race are pretty well set,” he notes. Nunes will “say this is all fake news—chalk it up as another example of the media needlessly going after him. And his supporters who are already inclined to believe that will continue to believe it. And those people who oppose him on immigration policy have already taken that position. My gut is this will not change anything.”