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Remembering Ex-Rep. Bill Dannemeyer, R.-CA: Suburban Warrior and Reagan Republican

Remembering Ex-Rep. Bill Dannemeyer, R.-CA: Suburban Warrior and Reagan Republican
Representative William E. Dannemeyer in 1989. (Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call via Getty)

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Sunday, 21 July 2019 04:23 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Any reporter who covered or simply had an acquaintance with former Rep. Bill Dannemeyer could sense what was coming when the Orange County (CA) Republican died on July 9 at age 89.

“William Dannemeyer, California Conservative and Anti-Gay Crusader, Dies…,” blared the headline of the “New York Times.” 

This was repeated almost verbatim in the Los Angeles “Times” obituary. 

The pro-gay Advocate went further, proclaiming the death of “William Dannemeyer, Leading Homophobe of His Era.”

It is inarguable that fierce opposition to the gay agenda was high on the agenda of the lawmaker colleagues nicknamed “Dynamiter” for his advocacy of conservative causes. 

He once famously said God “created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and was one of eighteen House Members to oppose a 1990 bill authorizing federal authorities to collect data on crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. He explained his vote on the grounds it put sexual orientation on par with those other characteristics.

But that was not uncommon for Republican office-holders in Orange County a generation ago, when it was inarguably one of the nation’s bastions of conservatism. (The county went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and sent all Democrats to Congress in ’18).

Opposition to the embryonic gay rights movement in the 1970’s mobilized conservative Christians in Orange County, who, as political scientist Lisa McGirr wrote in Suburban Warriors “saw it as a challenge to biblical precepts of right and wrong, a threat to the traditional family, and one more concept of the moral corruption of American society.”

But there was much more to Bill Dannemeyer than what was focused on in most of his obituaries.

“Bill was a Reagan Republican and that’s how he should be primarily recalled,” Ron Pearson, Dannemeyer’s first chief of staff, told Newsmax, “He was strongly pro-life, fought for the Balanced Budget Amendment, and championed abolishing the Department of Education and decentralizing public education.”

And, Pearson added, “He was a Democrat who changed parties, just like Reagan.”

The son of German immigrants, Dannemeyer graduated from Valparaiso University (Ind.) and the Hastings College of Law at the University of California. Following a stint in the U.S.Army Intelligence Corps during the Korean War, Dannemeyer settled in Santa Barbara to practice law.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

In 1959, he moved to Orange County to become city attorney of Fullerton. Three years later, he was elected to the state Assembly as a Democrat. Dannemeyer was a proud conservative Democrat in the mold of then-Rep. Richard Hanna of Orange County and Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty.

Dannemeyer’s first involvement with social conservatism came in the early 1960s’, when he led a group of 400 parents in Fullerton to oppose “sex knowledge inventory tests” given to high school children. In 1966, he joined Pastor Tim LaHaye to form a group known as the California League for Enlisting Action Now (CLEAN). The group supported Proposition 16, which would give local authorities power to define and regulate what it considered pornography.

By 1970, Dannemeyer was fed up with the Democratic Party and announced on a local TV show he was becoming a Republican. (The show’s host was a TV personality named Bob Dornan, with whom Dannemeyer would work closely with in Congress).

Dannemeyer returned to the state Assembly as a Republican in 1976 and, two years later, managed to wrap up the GOP nomination with minimal opposition to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Charles Wiggins. Over the next fourteen years, he would never win re-election with less than 65% of the vote.

Against the advice of most of his friends, Dannemeyer relinquished his House seat in 1992 to run for the Senate. After spending $1 million of his own money, he lost to appointed GOP Sen. John Seymour (who lost in November to Dianne Feinstein).

Staffers and friends would frequently regret Dannemeyer’s decision. Had the Californian remained in the House, they noted, he would have become chairman of the important health subcommittee of the House Energy. Wielding that gavel, Dannemeyer may have become a player in the national health care debate in short order.

“What I was most impressed with is that when Bill Dannemeyer said he would do something, whether you agreed with him or not, you could go to the bank on him doing it,” Ron Pearson told us, “And that’s a rare quality in Washington.” 

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John-Gizzi
Any reporter who covered or simply had an acquaintance with former Rep. Bill Dannemeyer could sense what was coming when the Orange County (CA) Republican died on July 9 at age 89.
dannemeyer, gay, clinton, dornan, pornography
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2019-23-21
Sunday, 21 July 2019 04:23 PM
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