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Photo by Jack GouldRepublican Party boss Tom Fuentes might have thought he'd converted another Democrat on Feb. 3, when state Senator Joe Dunn voted with the GOP against tripling the annual vehicle license fee (VLF) to address California's $35 billion budget deficit.
But Dunn (D-Santa Ana) immediately calmed anxious members of his party. "I want you to know that I have never shied away from the Democratic Party and I never will," he said at a recent Democratic activists gathering at Coco's in Brea. "I am proud to be a Democrat."
Dunn explained that while he voted with Republicans on the VLF, he did so because the tax is horribly regressive. "I don't believe the budget should be balanced on the backs of hard-working people, like a teacher who makes just $30,000. She would be hit hardest by increases in the VLF," he said.
In a county where Democrats like Loretta Sanchez, Bruce Broadwater, and Larry Agran are often indistinguishable from Republicans, Dunn is a true rarity, a Democrat unafraid of being accused of "class warfare" by Republican strategists. Whether he's at a corporate or environmental function, he tells people what he is: a hardcore, unapologetic Democrat.
But Dunn has been known to disagree with his supporters. During the Coco's meeting, a member of the audience pleaded with the senator to keep open the state government's foreign trade offices.
"You aren't going to like my answer," he said politely. "With the budget crisis, how can I tell taxpayers that we're going to spend millions of their dollars to, say, employ 12 trade bureaucrats in a Hong Kong office? There is no evidence that those offices really do help businesses."
Dunn is equally outspoken on other issues. He called the impending war against Iraq an inevitable disaster—"unless people in this country organize" to stop it. He called multinational trade agreements like NAFTA "scary, scary problems" that are "threatening democracy" by allowing international corporate bodies to veto laws passed by elected bodies in the U.S. And he said Democrats have only themselves to blame for losing the U.S. Senate in November. "The Democratic Party has forgotten its core strength is grass-roots politics," he said. "We need to speak for the middle class, working people and the poor. That is our core. Democrats should stop pretending we are the other guys. If we do, then we will win."