|Member of the|
U.S. House of Representatives
January 3, 1977 - January 3, 1983
|Alphonzo E. Bell Jr.|
January 3, 1985 - January 3, 1997
|Jerry M. Patterson (38th)|
|Steve Horn (38th)|
Loretta Sanchez (46th)
|Constituency||38th district (1985-93)|
46th district (1993-97)
Robert Kenneth Dornan
April 3, 1933
New York City, New York, U.S.
Sallie Hansen (m. 1955)
|Alma mater||Loyola University of Los Angeles|
A boisterous former actor and television and radio talk show host, Dornan had a flair for the dramatic that drew supporters and detractors well beyond his congressional district. Though never a major power in Washington, he became one of the most well-known members of the House of Representatives as a participant in televised "special orders" speeches and has been described as "one of the leading firebrands among American politicians."
Dornan was born in New York City, the son of Gertrude (McFadden) Dornan (1900-1967) and Harry Joseph Dornan (1892-1975). In New York, Dornan's mother had been a vaudeville performer as part of an act called The McFadden Sisters and a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, and had performed under the stage name Bara Wilkes; her sister was the wife of actor Jack Haley. Harry Dornan owned a haberdashery, and after moving to California, he became a real estate entrepreneur in West Los Angeles and was active in harness racing, a pastime in which many celebrities participated during the 1940s and 1950s. Robert Dornan was able to take advantage of his family's entertainment industry experience and connections after he embarked on his own acting and talk show career, and make use of celebrity endorsements and campaign contributions to launch his political career.
Dornan attended Loyola University of Los Angeles (later renamed Loyola Marymount University) from 1950 to 1953. Harry Dornan was a veteran of World War II who had attained the rank of major in the army. At age 19, Robert emulated his father by volunteering to join the United States Air Force. He became a fighter pilot, and during his time in the Air Force, he survived two emergency parachute ejections and two "dead stick" forced landings (including one of an F-100). Dornan also served as a combat journalist and photographer on several missions in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the Vietnam War and flew relief flights into Biafra. He was on active duty until 1958, and attained the rank of Captain. He served in the California Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve until 1975.
Bob Dornan took an active role in the civil rights movement. He took part in the historic 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr. The following year he helped register African Americans to vote in Mississippi.
Dornan was involved in the entertainment industry. He starred in the film The Starfighters, cast as Lt. Witkowski, an Air Force pilot who was the son of a U.S. congressman. The Starfighters aired on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
In 1962, he portrayed Air Force Lieutenant Alden in the episode "Dennis at Boot Camp" of the CBS sitcom, Dennis the Menace, starring Jay North and Gale Gordon, with Roy Roberts in this segment as Captain Stone.
Dornan had a frequent role as Captain Fowler on ABC's Twelve O'Clock High television series and smaller roles on ABC's Bewitched and NBC's I Dream of Jeannie. Dornan was an Emmy-award-winning television talk show host on Tempo and The Robert K. Dornan Show broadcast from Los Angeles from 1967 to 1973.
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Dornan moved into politics in 1973 as national spokesman for the Citizens for Decency Through Law advocacy group. He made an unsuccessful run for mayor of Los Angeles the same year. In 1976, Dornan was elected to the House of Representatives, representing the 27th Congressional District in western Los Angeles County. He was re-elected twice. He was such an unswerving advocate for the development of the B-1 bomber, that he was soon nicknamed "B-1 Bob."
After the 1980 census, California's congressional map was redrawn. Dornan's district, previously a Republican-leaning swing district, was made significantly more Democratic. Believing he had no chance of winning this new district, he opted to run for the United States Senate in 1982. He finished fourth in the Republican primary behind San Diego mayor and future Governor Pete Wilson, who won in November.
Dornan moved to Garden Grove, in the more Republican Orange County. In 1984, he was elected to Congress from the 38th District in central Orange County, defeating 10-year Democratic incumbent Jerry M. Patterson by a 53% to 45% margin amid Ronald Reagan's massive landslide that year. In 1986, he won a tough race against Democratic state Assemblyman Richard Robinson, winning by a 55% to 43% margin. He was re-elected four more times and served on the Intelligence Committee.
Dornan made headlines in March 1985 for a confrontation with Representative Thomas Downey (D-NY) on the House floor. Downey asked Dornan about comments he had made calling Downey "a draft-dodging wimp." According to Downey, Dornan, grabbing him by collar and tie, said, "It's good you're being protected by the sergeant-at-arms. If I saw you outside, it would be a different story" and threatened him "with some form of bodily harm." Dornan claimed he was merely straightening Downey's tie and refused to apologize for the incident or the derogatory comment. A Dornan aide said, "It will be a cold day in hell before he gets an apology from Bob Dornan."
In 1995, he received a minor reprimand from the House for stating in a floor speech that President Bill Clinton had "given aid and comfort to the enemy" during the Vietnam War. In 1996, Dornan was a dark horse candidate for President of the United States, using his campaign primarily as a vehicle to continue to criticize Clinton. In a GOP debate in Iowa on January 13, Dornan called Clinton a "criminal" and a "pathological liar." When asked why voters should choose Dornan over his Republican rivals to challenge Clinton in the general election, he argued that he had more children and grandchildren than the others, with only Indiana Senator Richard Lugar coming anywhere near him on that score. Dornan dropped out in order to run for reelection to his seat in the House.
In 1997, Dornan sought and received information concerning reports that Israel had purportedly received from former military men who had emigrated from the Soviet Union, concerning an alleged successful water landing of the KAL 007 airliner, shot down by the Soviet Union in 1983. These included what Dornan termed "credible reports" of the supposed survival of Congressman Larry McDonald of Georgia, who had been a passenger on KAL 007, and Dornan featured this on his radio program.
For his final successful run for Congress, Dornan had signs posted at polling places that warned voters in Spanish that they should be prepared to prove their citizenship in order to vote, suggesting that immigration officials would be present. The success of this action was believed to have kept enough Latino voters away from the polls to eke out a final victory for Dornan against Mike Farber in an election that featured allegations of domestic violence by Dornan. A long court battle deemed these signs illegal and inappropriate, and he was not able to post them again at the next election, which he then lost to Loretta Sanchez.[clarification needed]
During his political career, Dornan became known for his controversial or offensive statements. Among his remarks:
In 1994, a 120-page book of quotations of Dornan was compiled by Nathan Callahan and William Payton and published as Shut Up, Fag! The quotation that gives the book the title was actually shouted by Dornan's wife, Sallie, at an AIDS activist during an Orange County town forum. Dornan claimed the book was backed by director Oliver Stone, whom Dornan labeled "a Bolshevik enemy."
Dornan's comments and behavior have led his political opponents to question his mental health. Mike Kaspar of the Orange County Democratic Party said, "The primary issue is Bob Dornan, himself. I think his character and his own sanity are an issue here." At a White House Correspondents Dinner, Al Franken (who is actually a friend of Dornan's) joked "having Al D'Amato leading an ethics investigation is like getting Bob Dornan to head up a mental health task force."Michael Moore devoted an entire chapter of his book Downsize This! to his efforts to get Dornan involuntarily committed for psychiatric examination.
For most of Dornan's second stint in Congress, his district had been considered the only Orange County district where a Democrat had a realistic chance of winning. However, it became even more Democratic after the 1990 Census, when it was renumbered as the 46th District and absorbed a considerably larger number of Latino voters than he had previously represented. After failing to win the GOP presidential nomination in 1996, Dornan ran for reelection to the House against Loretta Sanchez, a Latina and former Republican who had switched parties and run as a Democrat. Dornan lost by 979 votes.
Following the narrow defeat, Dornan alleged that Sanchez's winning margin was provided by illegal voting from non-U.S. citizens. A thirteen-month House of Representatives investigation ensued, during which Sanchez was seated provisionally, pending the inquiry. A task force found 748 votes that had been cast illegally--624 from non-citizens in addition to 124 that had already been thrown out by California officials. This was not enough to overturn Sanchez's margin of victory and she was allowed to keep her seat. However, in consultation with the INS, the House committee identified 4,762 questionable registration affidavits. The probe was dropped before these affidavits could be investigated.
Dornan ran against Sanchez in 1998, but lost by a 17% margin. Proving just how Democratic this district had become, no Republican candidate has crossed the 40 percent mark in the district (renumbered as the 47th in 2003 and back to the 46th in 2013) since Sanchez unseated Dornan.
In 2004, Dornan challenged Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a fellow Republican, in the primary. Dornan charged Rohrabacher with being soft on terrorism and being too close to Islamic extremists. However, he lost by 84% to 16%.
During the summer of 2005, Dornan briefly expressed interest in the 48th Congressional District seat that became vacant when then U.S. Congressman Christopher Cox resigned to become Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He was interested in running as the nominee of the American Independent Party but did not, allegedly rebuffed by party officials.
In 1955, Dornan married Sallie Hansen. They are the parents of five children--Robin, Robert Jr., Kate, Theresa, and Mark. Dornan's grandchildren include Jose Robert Dornan, the son of Kate Dornan and Miguel Ferrer.
Each time, Sallie Dornan and the couple's five children have braced for the day when Dornan's role as a controversial public figure would lead to exposure of the darkest period of their lives.
Bob Dornan's confirmed offspring (Robin, Kate, Theresa, Mark and Bob Jr.)
|U.S. House of Representatives|
Alphonzo E. Bell, Jr.
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 27th congressional district
Jerry M. Patterson
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 38th congressional district
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 46th congressional district