Former Republican congressman Robert "B-1 Bob" Dornan has announced he will challenge incumbent Rep. Dana Rorabacher for the right to be the Republican nominee for his Orange County, California, House seat. Dornan, who served for nine terms before being defeated by Democrat Loretta Sanchez in 1996, has never accepted that defeat and is trying once again to win public office.
During his time in Congress, Dornan developed a well-earned reputation as a man of the far conservative right. A fervent anti-communist, he never met a military procurement bill he didn't like or a liberal issue he did. The slogan prominently displayed on his campaign web site is "Fighting for Faith, Family, and Freedom 2004." Dornan is a particularly loud-mouthed and belligerent politician. He sucker-punched Democratic Congressman Tim Downey on the House floor in 1992 and famously referred to women critics as "lesbian spearchuckers."
In his first broadside against Rohrabacher, Dornan targeted him for supporting medical marijuana. Although a conservative Republican -- not as conservative as Dornan, but then again, who is? -- Rohrabacher is an active cosponsor of the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act (H.R. 2233), introduced each session by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), and also cosponsored the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment that would have barred the use of federal funds for raids on medical marijuana patients and the Truth in Trials Medical Marijuana Act, H.R. 1717. But equally bad in Dornan's eyes were some off-the-cuff Rohrabacher comments from seven years ago.
"Anybody who wants to legalize marijuana or any other illegal substance is the enemy of this country," Dornan told the Orange County Register. "This is all a bogus smokescreen for the legalization of recreational use of mind-altering chemical substances."
Dornan's son, Mark, joined the attack with an op-ed in the Register. Criticizing the newspaper for saying there was little ideological difference between Rohrabacher and Dornan, the younger Dornan could find some: "For instance, illegal drugs. While Bob Dornan was landing in Burma with DEA agents in support of opium-eradication efforts and accompanying our California National Guard on nighttime drug-interdiction flights along our porous borders, where was Rohrabacher?," asked junior. "On a national ABC talk show, proudly proclaiming, 'I did everything but drink the bong water.' (Isn't that cool, boys and girls?) Rohrabacher also cosponsored H.R. 2233 to legalize marijuana. That's not exactly part of Republican ideology. Many of us are frustrated with the inconsistent success of the drug war, but Rohrabacher wants to run up the white flag."
[Editor's Note: Rohrabacher in fact uttered those words on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" -- in 1996. Also, H.R. 2233 does not "legalize marijuana." It allows for the use of medical marijuana in states that have approved it.]
Rohrabacher blamed youthful indiscretion for his own drug use. "I have not touched any illegal drug since I was 23, and I don't intend to detail for anybody the mistakes of my youth," he told the Register. "I have never pretended to have lived a puritanical life. When I was younger, I did some pretty wild things, and I have no apologies for anything I've done... But when you grow up, you become more responsible."
And he drew a distinction between medical marijuana and just plain old marijuana. "I do believe that marijuana is a threat and is harmful," Rohrabacher said. "But that doesn't mean that if someone is sick and it will help their appetite, we should arrest them. I'm not for changing federal laws, but if the states want it, they should be allowed to proceed."
Despite Mark Dornan's effort to find differences between his father and Rohrabacher, the differences are few. Rohrabacher, too, is a conservative. As his web site notes, he took time off from crafting anti-illegal immigrant measures and trying to get special awards for reporters embedded with US troops in Iraq to accept the "True Blue" award from the Family Research Council, a "traditional family values" organization that supports abstinence and opposes abortion and the estate tax.