CA-46: Why I Prefer Joe Dunn for Congress Over the Impressive Bao Nguyen




As Bao Nguyen and Joe Dunn look on, each wearing a mask of a querulous supporter from a web publications, an audience member recites an incantation that turns Lou Correa into a clone of reactionary kleptopublican debate moderator Jerry Amante.

As Bao Nguyen and Joe Dunn look on, each wearing a mask of one of their querulous supporters from web publications, an audience member recites an incantation that turns Lou Correa into a clone of reactionary kleptopublican debate moderator Jerry Amante.  (Photoillustration based on a blurry photo from the OC Weekly, and some other stuff.)

The CA-46 primary (to replace Loretta Sanchez in Congress) is the only major one where I feel conflicted this year.  Voting will begin within a week, so it’s time to address it.

We’ll cover the news of the recent debate here first, but as much as I love to save the surprise twist for the last, I’ll give away the conclusion here.  In a gridlocked Congress, it doesn’t matter all that much how individual Members of Congress stuck in the minority will vote, or what bills they will introduce, because they’re rarely going to win a close vote and their bills are generally going nowhere.

Instead, we need to evaluate members of Congress by the things that they can do even in a gridlocked Congress.  Primary among these is to focus the power of government into serious, aggressive, and fruitful investigations.

The President can’t veto a House investigation; nor can the Senate filibuster it.

This is where a Member of Congress in a gridlocked system can make — and leave — a mark.

And there will be no better investigator in Congress than Joe Dunn.  If you aren’t aware of his amazing track record, both as a lawyer and as a legislator, skip down to part 3.

[Disclosure: my daughter’s firm serves as candidate Bao Nguyen’s Campaign Treasurer, a non-political position that deals with legal compliance.  Given the headline up there, it should be obvious that that relationship didn’t affect my conclusion here.]

(1) The Debate

The five leading candidates for CA-46 — Democrats Joe Dunn and Bao Nguyen, Republicans Lynn Schott and Bob Peterson, and political hermaphrodite (flying the Democratic flag of convenience) Lou Correa  had a debate on Wednesday in Newport Beach, outside of the district.  That link is to Matt Coker’s Weekly article (from which we get our cover art, which unlike theirs depicts no one being raped by any animal); Martin Wisckol covered it in the RegisterThy Vo covered it in the Voice of OC, and the LA Times didn’t cover it at all.

The Register identified two differences between the three Democrats — only Bao has endorsed Bernie Sanders (yay!) and Bao thinks that a “path to citizenship” should not involve paying a fine, Dunn thinks that it should, and Correa, true to form, evaded taking any explicit position on the issue.

Having read all three reports, the main substantive difference identified between the two leading fundraisers, Dunn and Correa involved the role of regulation in supposedly driving businesses out of California.

(News flash: Despite what you may hear elsewhere, it’s actually the cost of housing.  Employees who have to make a three-hour commute to work from and to the houses they can afford, or who are crammed ten people into a two bedroom, are just not going to be as good as those whose two-way commute from comfortable quarters might be 15 to 20 minutes.)

The disagreement came up because Bao argued that “career politicians [i.e., Correa and Dunn] need to be held accountable for leaving California so over-regulated.”  This led Correa to proclaim his experience with deregulation.  As the Voice reports::

Correa referred to his experience in the state Senate working with the aerospace and biotechnology industries to reduce taxes and regulations.

We talked to the aerospace industry and passed tax breaks to make sure the next V3 Bomber would be built in California.  We’re a very expensive state to do business, highly regulated, very high taxes…let’s focus on jobs that can survive in California.”

Dunn countered, according to the Voice, by “reject[ing] the notion that businesses are fleeing the state.”

If it was so horrendous, all of our business would be in Mississippi. It’s a balance.  People want to live in California for the environment, parks beauty — so let’s dispense with the rhetoric, and where there are legitimate taxing issues, let’s have a discussion.

Coker, in the Weekly, displayed some extra élan:

Only Dunn had the guts to turn the regulation question around, saying if they are truly onerous they should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. But he took issue with the blanket nature of the question, noting that California currently has the fastest growing economy in the country. That’s because people want to stay in homes, parks and open land protected by regulations, environmental or otherwise, Dunn reasoned. Were that not true, he said, all these businesses would relocate to Mississippi, which imposes the fewest regulations.

So: Correa sounds like a borderline Republican; Bao sticks the shiv into his Democratic rivals without indicating his own views on regulation itself (“over-regulation” is bad by definition because in this context the prefix “over” means “too much”); and Dunn gives the answer I’d hope to hear from a Democrat.  Will this determine my preference?  Should it determine your vote?

No.  It’s pretty small potatoes.

Take a step back and ask yourself: “What are we doing here in this election?”

Yes, we’re choosing someone who we hope will vote as we like — but voting is only one part of what a Congressional Representative does.  It’s a larger job — and it’s the rest of the job that in this case allows us to rank the value of the candidates.

(2) The Great Disappointment and the Great Symbol

I’m going to dismiss the Republicans out of hand, but if you are bent that way you can flip a coin between them.  If there were only one of them, they might make the runoff — but with two of them against three Democrats they are likely to split the vote to the point where neither finishes in the Top Two.

I also dismiss voting for Correa out of hand, because he fails at one of the parts of the job that does not always show up in votes: he does a lousy job of putting his constituents’ interests first.  Floor votes are by and large the show that is put on for the public at the end of the production; the real fighting comes earlier, both in committees and not-yet-even-in-committees.  (Correa has an advantage over those like former Assemblyman Jose Solorio in that he’s usually pretty open about his plans to screw over Democratic interests — AFL-CIO Vice Chair Tefere Gebre used to say that he preferred Correa to Solorio because — and I paraphrase here — he’d rather have someone stab him in the chest than stab him in the back.  But Correa’s still a “fifth column” — a potential or active traitor within Democratic ranks — and it would only get worse if he got to Congress.)

Correa’s interests are those of his contributors — doctors and hospitals (who influenced his terrible positions on health care reform earlier this decade) and police and prison guards (who want to keep cops busy and insulated from accountability — and prisons at full capacity.)  And now he’s getting all chummy with the Pringle machine, because Pringle gives good buck.  Correa has no advantage for Democrats (or for good-government independents and conservatives) over Dunn and Bao; if elected, the best we could hope for is that he’d never show up except when the Speaker needed him for a final vote on something.  He’ll be a great disappointment in office except in one respect: he’d be best at making us miss Loretta.

That leaves two possibilities, Bao and Dunn.  They’d vote pretty much the same.  Dunn might be a better legislator due to his greater experience; Bao is young enough that he could be in office a couple of decades longer.  Choosing between them requires looking elsewhere.

Were everything else equal, one would probably have to go with Bao, because part of what a politician does is to serve as a symbol for the constituents — in this case, the Vietnamese community, local, national, and even international.  (This, despite some vomiting you’re likely to see in the comments below, is where Loretta has excelled in office.  Symbolically, she’s been great,  Substantively … she’s been OK to good.)  That he’d also be one of the few LGBT persons of color in Congress simply amplifies that.

Critically, Bao appears to be scrupulously honest when it comes to governing — although he’s lost some friends this year with somewhat sketchy below the belt hits, notably towards Dunn.  In a community that has been dominated by Janet Nguyen and Van Tran and Tyler Diep (among some others), that’s a significant accomplishment.  I hope that we will see Bao in Congress someday, and if Dunn weren’t running I’d be happy to see him there this year.  But Dunn is running, and Bao hasn’t shown that he can keep up with Correa in fundraising — so I think it would be better if he were to look westward to CA-47 (where he lives, after all) after Alan Lowenthal someday retires rather than east to a district where a great alternative is present.  With its growing Laotian and Cambodian populations, southeastern Long Beach needs an inspirational leader a lot like Bao — and who is more like Bao than Bao?

(3) The Great Investigator

Go back and re-read the intro above if you’ve forgotten it by now.  Joe Dunn will be one of Congress’s premier investigators of corruption and perfidy from the day he is sworn in.  And that is something that we can desperately use, no matter what else is going on in our beleaguered government.

That is not only his comparative advantage over Bao; it’s his comparative advantage over almost everyone running anywhere.

Like Bao, Dunn is also scrupulously honest when it comes to governing — but he’s been doing it longer.  He’s shown great personal courage in taking forward his whistleblower suit against the California Bar Association.  (Yes, it’s still alive; the court simply wants it to be re-written.  Happens all of the time.)  He bows to Bao mainly in his symbolic importance.  I don’t disregard that, but — he is going to be such a great investigator, which we so desperately need right now!

(And also, I suspect, he’s a lot more likely to beat Correa than Bao is.  This also matters.)

Here is a sample of the trophies on Joe Dunn’s wall, taken from his website (my emphasis throughout):

Joe made his mark as a lawyer by leading high profile, complex cases that helped protect consumers and more importantly, saved lives. His dogged pursuit of justice resulted in prohibiting tobacco companies from marketing to children, taking defective medical devices and pharmaceuticals off the market, and stopping cancer-causing chemical releases from a manufacturing plant.

Orange County voters elected Joe to the State Senate, where he helped middle-class families fight for access to affordable housing, emergency health services, and environmental protections. Joe continued to stand up to the powerful special interests and led the three-year investigation into Enron’s manipulation of California’s energy crisis. He is often credited as being “The Man Who Cracked Enron.” Joe also helped lead the effort to pass a local measure ensuring that millions of dollars in state tobacco settlement funding would be spent in Orange County on health care services.

Joe’s commitment to serving our communities continues by helping establish a new law school at the University of California Irvine and championing Children’s Hospital bonds that generated critical funding to treat the most serious children’s diseases.

Joe also helped launch the non-profit, independent Voice of OC to conduct local investigative reporting, and he is currently helping to form the most comprehensive institute on cybersecurity in the nation to protect individuals and companies from the increased threat of internet-based crimes and terrorism while ensuring individual privacy.

One omission in his website involves his work with victims of childhood sexual abuse.  Luckily, Dunn — who as a State Senator stood with sexual abuse victims before it was fashionable — talked about his work as a lawyer (which in this case would involve substantial high-level and high-difficulty investigation) in an interview with Vern half a year ago:

“The other major litigation I was involved in before running for office was against the Catholic Church for its clerical sexual abuse.  In the late 80s all the cases were dismissed due to the old statute of limitations – you had only until a year after your 18th birthday to report abuse that’d happened when you were a minor.  But in the 90’s there was a quirky set of circumstances in the Stockton diocese – this one priest, Father Oliver O’Grady, had been abusing boys for DECADES.   Roger Mahony, who later ran into so much trouble as LA Archbishop, is in this story too – he was Bishop of Stockton, and he responded to complaints by just moving Father O’Grady from parish to parish.

“Well, in 1998 I was elected to the state Senate and I had to let go of all those cases.  But one of the early things I did was to reform the Statute of Limitations for childhood sexual abuse.  Previously you had only until a year after your 18th birthday to report the abuse;  NOW you have until a year after you first learn that your emotional issues are connected to childhood abuse.  So, as you know, prosecution of these horrific cases has now gone much more smoothly.”“Well, O’Grady molested SEVERAL members of one family.  When the father caught wind of this, the youngest boy was still a minor, so we were able to get past that old statue of limitations.  We won a huge award for the family, including punitive damages.  Many believe Bishop Mahony lied during his testimony.  And two movies were made about this case!”

One of those movies was Deliver Us From Evil.

The other was … this year’s Academy Award Winner for Best Picture: Spotlight.

That’s a pretty incredible record.  I mean no disrespect to Bao in saying that that is the record of the kind of person whom I would most want to see in Congress — someone able and empowered to investigate the hell out of everything that’s hellish.  Those of you who will voting absentee as soon as you get your ballots — I just don’t think that you can do better than him.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)