Rep. Nunes unapologetic in demand for Schwarzenegger to resign

WASHINGTON -- Republican Rep. Devin Nunes of Visalia and his constituents will now learn the price for challenging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

By demanding Schwarzenegger's resignation on Friday, Nunes secured his reputation as a vehement lawmaker willing to confront his fellow Republicans. He also reopened the question of the political costs and benefits associated with insistently going one's own way.

"It's definitely going to cause some exciting times for his office," Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, predicted Monday, adding that he was "disappointed" in the congressman's resignation demand.

Nunes attributed the resignation demand to Schwarzenegger's ostensible unwillingness to provide more irrigation water to San Joaquin Valley farms.

Now a lame duck with less than two years left to serve, Schwarzenegger is viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of Californians -- including 53 percent of Republicans -- according to a March survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. In his weakened state, Schwarzenegger may be less fearsome than before.

At the same time, even a relatively unpopular sitting governor enjoys regulatory, patronage and funding powers that can be deployed for friends and against foes.

"Obviously, it doesn't please the governor to have a member of his own party making trouble," Marc Sandalow, director of the University of California at Merced's D.C. program, said Monday, adding that "it is remarkable for an elected official to call for the resignation of someone of his own party."

Remarkable, maybe. But, for Nunes, it's not entirely out of character. Particularly on San Joaquin Valley irrigation deliveries, which prompted his attack on Schwarzenegger, Nunes insists on letting the chips fall where they may.

"It's not a concern of mine," Nunes said Monday, when asked about the political and legislative consequences of his attack on Schwarzenegger. "What I'm trying to do is save people's jobs."

Since first winning his House seat in 2002, the 35-year-old Nunes has repeatedly tacked against his colleagues. He championed redistricting reform in 2005, when many House members opposed it. California voters rejected the redistricting ballot measure by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin.

The next year, Nunes bluntly and successfully challenged the then-chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee -- a Republican -- on a dairy dispute. At the time, members of his own staff joked that they could forget about securing appropriations for local projects. Though there was no evidence of explicit retaliation, Nunes has since forsworn making earmark requests.

More recently, Nunes has maneuvered against Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, over ambitious plans to restore the San Joaquin River. Over Nunes' objections, the House overwhelmingly approved the river plan as part of a larger public lands bill, and President Barack Obama signed it into law.

By no means is Nunes simply a rebel. He was an early supporter of House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, who gave Nunes some key fundraising responsibilities. An alliance with former Bakersfield Republican Bill Thomas helped secure Nunes a spot on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

And, in some cases, Nunes has been an early adopter of policies that later gain momentum. One year after Nunes denounced earmarks, for instance, Radanovich joined the parade of lawmakers declining to ask for them.

But so far, despite some constituent calls in support, no other public figures have followed Nunes' demand for Schwarzenegger's resignation over the failure to provide more irrigation water. Nunes, nonetheless, remains harsh in his characterization of Schwarzenegger.

"He's either under the total control of the radical environmentalists, "Nunes said Monday, "or he's totally incompetent."

On Friday, the Nisei Farmers League, the California Alliance for Jobs, the Western Growers Association and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California quickly produced press releases supporting Schwarzenegger.

The governor's office encouraged the Metropolitan Water District to make a statement, a district spokesman said Monday. Other farm group leaders were likewise contacted by the governor's office and urged to produce similar statements in support of Schwarzenegger.