FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 2010, OR THEREAFTER
BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“A DOWN-THE-TICKET RACE WITH TWO LIKELY WINNERS”
No one in California politics gives 33-year-old Republican Damon Dunn much chance of unseating Democratic Secretary of State Debra Bowen this fall.
Not only is she a well-entrenched political veteran, but even Dunn, a Baptist pastor and former football player turned Orange County-based real estate developer and shopping mall owner, concedes she has a record of accomplishment in her first four years of holding statewide office, especially when it comes to restoring voters’ faith in the state’s voting techniques.
“She gets credit for restoring some integrity to the process,” Dunn said in an interview, referring to Bowen’s review of electronic voting machines and the resulting return to large-scale use of paper ballots. In fact, she gets so much credit that as of early March, Dunn was the only declared Republican candidate running against her. There was still a possibility that another might jump in: Orly Taitz, another Orange County figure who is a leader of the “birther” movement that questions whether President Obama is eligible for his job.
But Dunn, the only Republican now campaigning, enthusiastically and unequivocally says he will win this fall and become California’s first African-American statewide officeholder since Mervyn Dymally was lieutenant governor in the late 1970s.
But he won’t be bitter if he loses. “I’m not in this to win; I’m in this to help,” he declares. “This state made me. My mama had me when she was 16. I was on welfare. Few people have lived poorer than me.”
He describes growing up in a family of 10, but still doing well enough academically and athletically to win a Stanford University football scholarship and later play on four National Football League clubs. He admits never voting until last spring’s special election, saying, “My family didn’t vote – that was a bad habit.”
But he insists his ideas for the office are good and that his not having voted in the past shouldn’t matter as he seeks to be California’s chief election official. “Not voting has nothing to do with the work,” he said.
Part of what he envisions: “Only the secretary of state gets a notice whenever a business in California shuts down or leaves,” Dunn said. “The secretary of state can examine the exact reasons and try to get something done about them. I would assign one of the eight appointees the secretary of state gets to that task alone.”
He also thinks he can reach out to other non-voters better than Bowen. “Who can reach non-voters better than a recovering non-voter?” he asks.
Bowen says she’ll gladly debate Dunn sometime after the June primary election, but says his ideas are naïve, if idealistic.
“Most businesses that close down are not leaving the state,” she said. “Even in good times, only one in eight businesses that starts up will survive the first year. A lot of closures are due to bankruptcy, too, and the economy. Businesses are closing at about the same rate in every part of the country. So if you followed up on every closure, you’d be wasting a lot of time.”
And when it comes to new voter outreach, she said, “You discover that this is a huge state and there’s a limit to how many places you can actually go. So we accomplish a lot of outreach through partnerships with businesses and unions and chambers of commerce and schools. You have to create relationships and then leverage them.”
One thing Bowen doesn’t buy is the notion that Dunn’s candidacy is the product of a plot devised by Republican strategist Karl Rove, long the chief political adviser to former President George W. Bush, for the GOP to take control of the national election process at the state level.
Some Democrats claim there is such a Rove-led conspiracy, an extension of the belief that former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris threw the 2000 election to Bush and former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell did the same for him in 2004.
The belief that Dunn might be part of such a plan was furthered by a newspaper report that Rove now advises Dunn. In fact, says Dunn, he has met Rove only once, fleetingly. “He wouldn’t remember my name. I wasn’t even a candidate when I met him,” Dunn said. “Nobody recruited me. I wish they did because it would be great to get some donations.”
Bowen scoffs at the idea of a Rovian plot. “I’m not much for conspiracy theories,” she said. “Besides, I don’t think Karl Rove would exactly be an asset in California.”
Even if he were, it would still be difficult to unseat an incumbent widely credited with restoring electoral confidence to California. Where does that leave Dunn? Probably with a promising future, especially since he’s shown a willingness to serve a campaign apprenticeship that will give him a leg up in future elections.
Which is why this contest might be the rare one that produces two winners.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net