By Timothy P. Holmberg
In 1998, as a cub reporter for the Gay & Lesbian Times, I was asked by then-publisher Michael Portantino to interview aspiring Superior Court judge candidate, and openly lesbian Republican, Bonnie Dumanis.
I arrived at Hamburger Mary’s (now Mo’s) dutifully on time at 11am sharp, with PR photo of Dumanis in hand, to find her already seated and waiting. Her signature hair was exactly as in her photo, and exactly the same as it is to this day. Dumanis struck me then as someone not indoctrinated to mechanical obedience to party orthodoxy. Her history with San Diego’s drug courts program spoke volumes of her desire to find not only justice but rational solutions. Reform over recidivism.
That Bonnie (apart from the hairdo) is gone.
Upon her ascendancy to the DA’s office in 2003, she began a steady metamorphosis that reached a disturbing low with her recent resignation following a campaign financing scandal. The journey from criminal justice innovator to slouching partisan robot was not an immediate or precipitous one for Dumanis. Indeed, she had managed to maintain strong community support from major figures in the LGBT community despite a long trudging list of disappointments.
Her opposition to clean needle exchange angered local HIV activists who had already proven the efficacy of such programs. Though the program eventually was approved, her opposition delayed the program from being deployed earlier, leaving countless people at risk.
Dumanis carried out a personal crusade against dispensaries and pressured local officials to steer clear of even discussing regulation of legal medical marijuana use.
Next was a much more broad disappointment over medical marijuana. Her opposition, not only shook HIV activists but many other compassionate user groups. Dumanis carried out a personal crusade against dispensaries and pressured local officials to steer clear of even discussing regulation of legal medical marijuana use. As the years of her opposition dragged on, a wild west atmosphere ensued in which neither users nor providers could be certain of their standing.
San Diego’s LGBT community was in line for a much more direct disappointment from their would be an ally over the fight for LGBT marriage equality. The community could do little but watch the spectacle of Dumanis wading the DA’s office directly into politics by handing a much sought after endorsement to County Recorder candidate, and fellow Republican, Ernie Dronenburg.
Dronenburg had angered the LGBT community (and the County Board of Supervisors) by allowing his office to become a platform for outside legal defense of the anti-gay marriage initiative Proposition 8. The typically uneventful election of such an office turned into a bitter political feud within the community as prominent gay Republicans swung to Bonnie’s defense (see Susan Jester).
There are more quiet affronts that occurred largely off the radar (thanks in large part to the San Diego Union-Tribune), that Dumanis has yet to account for.
In the midst of the largest financial scandal to ever hit San Diego, a long list of Bonnie’s Republican benefactors quietly slid off stage as the city earned the moniker, “Enron by the Sea”. Dumanis had been expected to file charges against then-Mayor Dick Murphy and possibly several council members. In the end, she punted. She filed charges against only six pension board trustees (some arguably political adversaries that the Republican Party was happy to see bagged), while Murphy was allowed to slither away.
Similarly, Sempra Energy and its executives were quietly let off the hook following revelations over schemes to rig energy prices and again following findings of negligence that led to one of the largest and most destructive fires in San Diego’s history. No charges were ever filed by Dumanis in what has become a conspiracy of silence when it comes to well-connected institutions who have victimized the city and its residents.
The low point for Dumanis occurred in her ill-fated 2012 mayoral bid. Revelations about a foreign national funneling money into Dumanis’ flagging campaign, clearly implicated her as being well aware of what was happening, and of its illegality (she was DA after all). The donor has been tried in court, Dumanis has not. It does not take much supposition to see her hand-picked successor, Summer Stephan, shielding Dumanis from any future investigations.
This is the resume of the politician who will ask San Diegans not just to overlook her record and the looming cloud over her, but reward her with a seat on the County Board of Supervisors. A once-promising DA, who gave in and allowed her office to become an instrument of Republican Party hegemony.
As the saying goes, “fool me once (Bonnie), shame on you.” Will San Diego voters allow Bonnie to fool them again? We will find out on June 5th.
Timothy P. Holmberg is a former staff reporter for the Gay & Lesbian Times and has been published in Uptown News Magazine, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and the New York Times (opinion).