Devin Nunes’ Anti-HSR Rant
Not everyone in the Central Valley is happy that the region will be the first to get high speed rail in California. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, from the 21st District (Tulare County and eastern Fresno County) published an anti-HSR rant in today’s Fresno Bee, denouncing the funds for helping give a boost to Democrat Jim Costa, who appears to have narrowly survived his re-election bid. Costa is a leading supporter of HSR, having authored the original bill to create the California High Speed Rail Authority and acting as one of the project’s key supporters in Congress.
That rankles Nunes, who is a particularly rabid right-wing ideologue. You can get a sense of that by reading his rant:
Just days before Halloween and about a week prior to the general election, the White House announced billions in stimulus spending around the country. These grants, a by-product of the stimulus slush fund created by Congressional Democrats last year, were used to provide last-minute re-election assistance to struggling Democrats.
Republicans, including myself, unanimously opposed passage of the trillion dollar boondoggle that financed these grants. At the time, I told The Bee and others that stimulus spending would not create sustainable employment, which it hasn’t, but that it would be used to finance the re-election efforts of Democrats, which it was. The Bee not only failed to report my observations during the stimulus debate, but also failed to report the facts as they unfolded in our own community days before the election.
The president’s effort to secure the re-election of Democrats who voted for ObamaCare manifested itself locally in a $715 million grant for high-speed rail in the San Joaquin Valley. The announcement of this funding rightly spurred outrage on the part of fiscal conservatives who not only see the stimulus spending as reckless, but view the high-speed rail project to be inappropriate, given California’s financial crisis.
In other words, Nunes charges that the decision by the US Department of Transportation to award all existing federal HSR funding California has received to the Central Valley was political payback for Costa having voted for the president’s health care reform bill. Nunes has absolutely no evidence this is the case, and willfully ignores the obstacles to quickly spending the stimulus funds on the other two segments (SF-SJ and LA-Anaheim). Nunes’ op-ed reads like an angry email he might have penned once he learned that Costa took what is likely to be a permanent lead in the vote counting over Republican challenger Andy Vidak.
Nunes does levy a bunch of other charges against the project, none of which are new:
California’s effort to establish a high-speed rail system has been chugging along since 1996 at anything but high speed.
Actually, by 2004 the proposal was ready to go to the ballot, but Nunes’ fellow Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger preferred to delay the vote not once but twice. Only in 2008 was the bond funding finally approved.
In one year, from 2008 to 2009, the High Speed Rail Authority was forced to raise its cost projections from $32.6 to $42.6 billion.
Nunes distorts the truth by not explaining why the projection changed – the federal government mandated a shift in cost accounting from current year to year-of-expenditure dollars. In the absence of inflation, the cost could actually be well below $42.6 billion.
Indeed, the final price tag of high-speed rail could easily exceed the combined federal highway spending in California for the 50 years from 1957-2007.
That would be a rather stunning outcome. Nunes provides no evidence whatsoever in support of this extraordinary claim.
But those issues are secondary for Nunes, who is clearly motivated by a bizarre political vendetta against his Democratic opponents:
Now is not the time for fairytales about the future of travel in California, nor is it time to celebrate jobs that have yet to materialize.
The passage of time will tell taxpayers whether they were tricked or treated by President Obama’s Halloween surprise. In the meantime, I would hope that Bee writers would refrain from mischaracterizing my remarks in an attempt to blame Republicans in order to protect the Dustbowl Democrats from their own political stunts.
Nunes is clearly unhinged. But the joke’s on him.
Nunes is a beneficiary of the 2001 gerrymander that created ultra-safe seats for both Republicans and Democrats. Without having to worry about a Democratic challenger, Nunes was free to embrace an extremist agenda without paying attention to the dire needs of his constituents. Nunes opposed the stimulus that has prevented the already difficult situation in the San Joaquin Valley from getting worse. Now he opposes an HSR project that will bring thousands of desperately needed jobs to his district and boost long-term growth prospects. Nunes’ district includes the Visalia area, which has been hoping to get a station at nearby Hanford – but instead of helping his community achieve that goal, Nunes is bent on frustrating it.
His constituents are getting fed up with his right-wing anti-jobs politics; this recent letter to the editor in the Visalia Times-Delta is just one particularly strident example of the anger in the community over Nunes’ policies. But because Nunes is in a safe seat, voters can’t hold him accountable for preferring extremist rants to job creation.
That’s all about to change. Because of the passage of Proposition 20, Congressional districts will be redrawn by the nonpartisan citizens’ redistricting commission for the 2012 election cycle. It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that Nunes will be drawn into a district that includes a LOT more Democrats and therefore is much less safe.
In particular, Nunes might get more of Fresno proper in his district (currently the district ends at the western edge of Clovis). Voters there won’t look too favorably on Nunes’ opposition to HSR, which will bring not only construction jobs to the Valley, but provide the basis of a long-term economic prosperity that will lift the Valley out of poverty.
HSR not only has widespread support in Fresno, but bipartisan support. Republicans and Democrats alike understand the benefits of HSR and want it brought to the Valley. Nunes is an outlier here, and while his rant in the Fresno Bee might make him feel better, it’s only going to undermine his re-election chances in 2012 when he can no longer count on gerrymandering to enable his extremism.