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Robert Dornan's Skeleton Closet

Picture of Dornan

Even in a campaign with some wild personalities, "B-1" Bob Dornan stands out as a character. And he is not the simple right-wing fanatic many think he is. This surfer has some claim to protecting the environment, and was a civil rights activist in the early 1960s. He also flew mercy flights into Biafra in the 1960s.

Click on the allegation of your choice:

Bounced House checks for the Virgin Mary; his wife accused him of beating her; Top Gun or Lousy Pilot? -- Punched a Democrat on the floor of Congress; Show-Biz Kid; his character; Quotes; Sources


"People elected a governor and I have a screaming transvestite in my ear." - Bob Dornan

"Every lesbian spearchucker is hoping I get defeated." -- Bob Dornan

Cashing Checks for the Virgin Mary

The House Banking scandal embarrassed a number of politicians, including Newt Gingrich (who bounced 22 checks), but Dornan deserves a prize for the best cheesy excuse in all of politics.

He said that he wrote the check he bounced to pay for a grotto of the Virgin Mary in his back yard. He won re-election to his heavily Catholic district.

Wife Beating

Dornan's wife Sallie has left him 3 or 4 times, and alleged in several aborted divorce suits over 16 years that he beat her. For example, in her 1961 divorce suit she stated under oath that he "dragged her about the home... by her hair and ... exhibited a revolver."

In June 1966, Dornan was found guilty of a "violent attack" on his wife and was ordered to go to jail, though police records do not show him actually serving any time.

After Dornan's opponent in his 1992 re-election brought up these old charges, Sallie recanted, saying that alcohol and drug addiction drove her to falsely accuse him of beating her. She said "I am a Christian. I am a good wife. I am a good mother, but I sure as hell wasn't then. It's just very sad that Bob had to suffer what I brought down on his head through illness, major illness." Sad, indeed.

Beating Up On Democrats -- Literally

Dornan punched Democratic Congressman Tom Downey, a Democrat from Long Island, on the floor of the House of Representatives. Granted, that's a lot more entertaining than your average congressional debate, but many people consider it over the top.


Dornan is often pegged (along with William Dannemeyer) as one of Orange County's two insanely right wing Congressman. And that is more or less true. But he's not nearly that simple.

Dornan was a civil rights activist who stood by Martin Luther King during the 1963 March on Washington and helped register black voters in Philadelphia, Mississippi during 1964. He is a surfer who staunchly opposes offshore oil drilling (at least in California.)

Orange County is not all rich, white, and Republican. Dornan's district is majority hispanic; his fervent Catholicism, military service, social conservatism and macho-ness all get him re-elected, as much or more than his Republicanism.

Dornan is also a show biz kid. His mother, Bara Wilkes, was a vaudeville performer in the 1920s; his father Harry Dornan was an Olympic boxing coach and businessman; and his uncle played the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz.

Dornan's own show biz career includes work as a talk show host in LA, substituting for Rush Limbaugh when he is on vacation (Bob is MUCH more conservative), his stint in Congress of course, and a starring role in at least one movie - "Starfighters" (1959) - which was bad enough to be featured on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" last November. He won two Emmy awards, one for producing the LA talk show "Tempo".

Top Gun?? Or Lousy Pilot?

Dornan was a fighter pilot who flew several varied aircraft and worked in Air Force Intelligence. He has claimed that he was a "shit-hot fighter pilot", and builds up his military history. He has described himself as fighting in Vietnam, though his active service was actually before that. His work in Vietnam was as a combat photographer, no cakewalk but not fighting either.

A Newsweek sharply attacked his claims of military fame. In "little more than a year of active-duty service and a reserve stint," the magazine said, he crashed three jets and one helicopter -- "one wreck shy of the dubious distinction 'Black Ace.'" When asked for comment, he told Newsweek "You can write it up any fucking way you want."

Newsweek's claims are a bit suspect themselves. The notion of the Black Ace is bizarre on it's face -- how many people would survive 4 crashes to qualify for a fifth? And a 20 year Air Force veteran (9 years flying) wrote us saying he had never heard of the term.

According to a sympathetic biography of Dornan by Andrew Sears, an MIT student, he joined the Air Force in 1953 and began flying "as soon as he earned his silver wings", until 1958. Not knowing how long training takes, it appears Newsweek underplayed the length of his service; they certainly minimized 17 years of reserve and guard duty as "a reserve stint."

Clearly he crashed a lot; even the sympathetic biography says "He survived two jet fighter emergency parachute ejections as well as two "dead stick" forced landings (F-100 jet fighter and H-13 solo helicopter)." How much these indicate poor piloting, and how much his survival indicates piloting skill, we don't know. (Our admittedly conservative Air Force source says that dead stick landings of an F-100, the first production supersonic plane, are very tough.)

He served on the Intelligence Committee when still in Congress, and -- more productively -- also flew mercy flights into Biafra in the 1960s.


Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1993 pE1
Newsweek, May 1, 1995 p70
Andrew Sears, "Representative Robert K. Dornan" Biography, 1996?
Scripps-Howard News Service, February 9, 1995
"House Race Briefing: CA 38", BACK TO SKELETON CLOSET

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