Politics & Government

This is the farmer Devin Nunes’ campaign is suing. He’s praying for his congressman

Paul Buxman says he isn’t worried about the lawsuit against him by his congressman’s campaign.

“I understand the pain of being maligned. I’ve been maligned before,” he said Friday. “This doesn’t surprise me at all. I can take it.”

Three years ago, Buxman sold his 40 acres of fruit trees near Dinuba in northeastern Tulare County to a young couple at a lower price than he was offered by wealthy investors. He still lives on Sweet Home Ranch and promised to help the couple make sure it’s successful.

He’s been recognized for his work reducing the use of pesticides after his son was diagnosed with cancer, and he does consulting here and there on issues where agriculture and the environment intersect.

His impressionist agricultural landscape paintings have won awards at The Big Fresno Fair.

Legal battle

So when his friend Daniel O’Connell asked him in 2018 to sign onto a petition to challenge Nunes’ ballot designation of “farmer,” Buxman did it.

“People want to see the word farmer for this reason: The word farmer says they’re someone who is out early, working with the workers. Their main occupation is taking care of trees, maybe cows, or whatever it is,” Buxman said. “We trust those kinds of people because they’re salt of the earth. I have to say I support farmers.

“Across the American landscape, if you ask: What is a teacher? What is a pilot? What is a farmer? They have an idea what that is,” he said. “Farmers take care of the land and people, and they’re out there everyday driving tractor.”

Buxman, 71, noted the petition he signed didn’t seek money. “I’m telling him, ‘Let’s be honest.’”

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The lawsuit Nunes’ campaign filed this week against Buxman and three other defendants alleges they conspired to use dark money to injure his campaign in their effort to remove “farmer” from his ballot designation. (The group Buxman joined lost that effort.)

Buxman said that before Friday, he had never heard the term “dark money.” He also wasn’t sure he knew exactly what a super PAC is, with which Nunes’ campaign accuses Buxman of conspiring. (A super PAC is a political action committee that doesn’t have limits on fundraising but can’t contribute to or coordinate with a candidate.)

“I wouldn’t know a super PAC if I saw one,” he said, laughing. “I’m not sure I agree with super PACs. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”

Buxman only three months ago saw the internet. He doesn’t own a computer. He doesn’t have an email address.

“I’ve never seen a Twitter, or e-face, face deal – whatever that is,” he said. “I’m not a conspirator. I’ve never read anything Devin has written. Only since seeing the internet, I see why people are tired of it, with the bad comments. You’re better off without it.”

Relationship with Nunes

Buxman has known Nunes for more than a decade. The newly elected congressman visited Buxman’s Sweet Home Ranch in 2003 and made it a stop on his first Central Valley Ag Tour in 2004.

“I thought what an honor, that my representative would come out to a California Clean farm that is making a difference for our environment,” Buxman said. “It was what people might call a photo op.”

Buxman, a Democrat, said he voted for Nunes in every election – except the last one. “I felt he wasn’t available in the last one,” he said.

He tried to pass on some advice to Nunes, but could only reach someone on his staff.

“I said I want to help Devin. I said I’d like to ask him to calm down the rhetoric against the people in his district who maybe he disagrees with,” Buxman said. “I know why he feels threatened by these people. It’s been unsettling for all the things happening in agriculture.”

Wishing the best for congressman

Buxman teaches a Sunday school class for the elderly. His wife, Ruth, is a First Mennonite Church minister. She asked Buxman if he was praying for his congressman.

“I could tell you, it hasn’t been easy trying to bring myself to say I want this man to become happy, to become useful, honest, in a way in which he could become useful again,” Buxman said. “I don’t know if you could stay in Washington too long without getting sick.”

Thursday night, after Nunes’ campaign filed the lawsuit in Tulare County Superior Court, Buxman said he prayed for Devin.

“I would like him to see what a democracy is and how he can carry out his love of his district,” Buxman said. “Our leaders need, not so much for us to agree with them, they need us to care for them. They need us to help them be the best they can be – for their own sake and for ours. If we truly love our leaders, we have to not necessarily be with them on positions, but be with them in our hearts.

“I’m closer to that today than I was yesterday when this thing was filed.”

Brianna Calix: 559-441-6166, @BriannaCalix

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.