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Presidential Hopeful, Former Member of Congress Speaks at Law School


Robert K. Dornan, the feisty presidential hopeful and former member of Congress known as much for his charisma as his staunch conservatism, spoke at the Harvard Law School Forum yesterday evening to an audience of about 60 people.

In a talk that stretched for two hours, Dornan railed against the political system that he claimed "banished" him from Washington, D.C., while he kept listeners shaking with laughter from his acerbic comments.

"[This is] the first time I ever followed Oliver Stone," Dornan began, referring to famed move director's speech at the Forum earlier this month. "Though I'm sure there are lots of lost women in Hollywood who attribute their downfall to him."

Dornan spoke of the political support he won from former president Ronald Reagan, who urged him to bring his conservatism to various reaches of California.

"Reagan told me, "Why don't you go down there?" Dornan recalled of the former president's advice that he run for a seat in California's 38th congressional district. "The representative there only pretends to be a conservative."

Dornan was first elected to Congress in 1976. He then held three different California seats--in the 27th, 38th, and 46th districts--for a total of nine terms. However, on election night, November 5, 1996, 1,212 late absentee ballots blocked his bid for a 10th term.

Dornan also finished well behind the rest of the field in the race for the Republican presidential nomination in the same year.

At yesterday's talk, the former representative spent much of the time contesting the congressional election results.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans in Washington seemed to escape Dornan's ire last night.

In fact, he expressed his disillusionment with power-seeking in general.

"It's been a unique path, I have never joined any elite group, never sought advance while others stabbed friends in the back," said Dornan in a pointed reference to his fellow Republicans, who, he said, abandoned him in his re-election bid last year.

"If I could change one thing, it would be to introduce term limits in Congress," he said, complaining of what he said is the disproportionate clout of incumbents.

Dornan also claimed that he lost his election through ballot-stuffing by illegal immigrants.

"You may be looking at the only Congressman who lost by the vote of people who aren't Americans," he said.

Dornan had scant respect for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), the occupant of his former seat, who he claimed has done "absolutely nothing" in the year she has been in office.

"They've got a flaky person," he said. "She may have a Hispanic name, but she's never dated a Hispanic-American, her husband's an Anglo, and she lives three districts away [from the one she represents]."

Sanchez and other members of Congress, however, seemed only the tip of the iceberg among the victims of Dornan's wrath.

Despite having been a television producer and host from 1965 to 1976, Dornan was highly critical of televised political debates and politicians involved in debates, in response to a question about soft money.

"Clinton goes up to the audience," Dornan said, play-acting a presidential debate in front of his own audience. "I have my needs, you have your needs, we mesh,"he said, imitating the president before moving on to the other candidates.

"Bush is caught looking at his watch. In the meantime, Perot is going, 'See, you have this car. And it's broken. So we fix it. And back it goes.' Perot comes in second."

Dornan was scathing about President Clinton's administration.

"Okay, so maybe all his friends are dead, under investigation or imprisoned, but Hillary's been treated harshly. So maybe I'll vote for him," Dornan said, mimicking a Clinton supporter. "That's what you have in the White House."

Dornan had no patience for the absentee American voter, either.

"Any American who doesn't take an interest in politics has lost his bitching rights," he said.

At the same time, Dornan was anxious to prove that he was not power-hungry and portrayed himself as a patriotic, pro-family good guy.

"Ninety percent of my special orders were on what I thought were on what I thought were pure Americana," he said.

Dornan also sought to counter his racist image.

"I've brought together more Hispanic families than anyone else in California," he claimed. "Same goes for Hmong, Khmer, Vietnamese... There isn't a racist bone in my body."

He was also anxious to prove that he was not sexist.

"Women have just as much power in Congress," he said.

Audience members seemed intrigued by Dornan's unconventionality.

"He's usually characterized as a vitriolic hate-monger but he's one of the rare politicians with firm convictions and the will to express them," said Ken Lee, a Harvard Law School student.

"Generally interesting and entertaining," said John H. Ray, another law student. "It's a break from my studies."

"He spoke for an hour saying nothing of substance," said law student Ben Glassman.

Even if Dornan's investigation into voter fraud fails to give him his congressional seat back, Dornan is not willing to disappear from politics anytime soon.

"In '99 I'll be back," he said. "With an attitude."

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