State senator Robert Dutton this week told the Sentinel he is embracing the spirit of California’s open primary in June and will shed the partisan edge to his persona that has thus far sustained him through his political career.
Dutton, who served two terms on the Rancho Cucamonga City Council, two years in the California Assembly and seven years to date in the California Senate, the last two as Republican leader, is competing against another Republican and four Democrats to represent California’s 31st Congressional District in the House of Representatives.
Traditionally in California, as elsewhere in the nation, members of the same political party vie against one another in the primaries, and the winner in each partisan contest goes on to run against the winners of the other same-party races in the November election. This year, however, the state of California is holding an open primary in which voters are permitted to cross party lines and vote for any candidate they wish, regardless of party. The two top vote-getters will then go on to run against one another in November. It is thus possible that two members of the same party will compete against each other in November.
Throughout California, district lines have been redrawn in correspondence to the 2010 national census. In the newly drawn 31st Congressional District this year, incumbent Republican congressman Gary Miller is running, along with four Democrats – Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, Loma Linda attorney Justin Kim, educator Rita Ramirez-Dean and nonprofit founder Renea Wickman. While the Democrats hold a slight voter registration advantage over Republicans in the 31st, the presence of four Democrats in the race and only two Republicans boosts the chances that the race in November could pit Republicans Dutton and Miller against one another.
Though he formerly proudly wore the sobriquet of a conservative Republican and crossed swords again and again with the Democratic majority and its leadership in Sacramento during his nine years there, he now says, “I have never been locked into one political philosophy. I don’t care about party politics. I am fed up with it. I don’t care if it’s a Democratic or Republican idea as long as it’s a good idea. I will work with anyone if working together will help the small business people out there putting their life savings at risk to create something.”
If he has any political leaning or philosophy, Dutton said, it is that “I believe government has the tendency to overreach. Government is too large. It is too large in California and it is definitely too large at the national level. We need to tell government to stop doing a lot of what it is already doing and keep it from doing anything else because government has gotten itself into the business of inhibiting our economic recovery by discouraging people from making investments. The bottom line is jobs. We have got to get people back to work. The one place government should be getting involved in is regulatory reform. There is no place that has been harder hit by the recession than San Bernardino County. We need to make this effort for the betterment of our area, which gets hurt most because of the failure to strive for lean government. What we need to do is not that complicated.”
Dutton, who had a successful real estate and development company before he went into politics in his early 40s in the 1990s, said he is not ready to leave his second profession just yet.
“I’m running for Congress because I feel I have done a good job for the people of San Bernardino County and I would like to continue in that capacity and I would invite those who feel I’ll do a good job in Washington to support me.”
California’s term limits make remaining in Sacramento a complicated calculus for Dutton. State senators are limited to two four-year terms. Assembly members are limited to three two-year terms. Dutton cannot return to the position he now holds, state senator, because his second term will expire at the end of the year. He served just a single term in the Assembly before stepping up to run for state Senate in 2004 and could run for the Assembly again. But he said the announcement of the pending departure of two-long serving Republican congressman from this area – Representative Jerry Lewis, who was first elected to the House in 1978, and Congressman David Dreier, who was initially elected in the Ronald Reagan landslide of 1980 – convinced him he needed to make the transition from state politician to national politician now.
“I am termed out in the [state] senate and I have to run for something else because I’d like to continue in public service. I felt that when Jerry Lewis and David Dreier retire, this will be for me the next logical step forward. I’ve felt I’ve always done a good job. Without someone dedicated in Washington, D.C., you will see San Bernardino County’s interests falling through the cracks. The bottom line is jobs and getting people back to work.”
Much has been made of the match-up between Dutton, who until January was the Republican leader in the California Senate, and Miller, an incumbent Congressman. But Dutton said that focus is misplaced.
“People have got to remember this is an open primary,” Dutton said. “It is not a race between Republicans for the nomination any more. It is not a contest between Gary Miller and me. I am not running against Gary Miller. There are six of us in this race competing to come up with the best ideas. I happen to feel I have the right combination of background and experience to be an effective voice for San Bernardino County.”
Dutton at this point refused to criticize Miller, either on the basis of his voting record or his positions on issues in the current race. The closest he came to a negative observation about Miller was to note that Miller is less familiar with and less vested in the 31st District than he is.
Miller, a Diamond Bar resident, currently represents the 42nd Congressional District, which encompasses all or portions of Chino, Chino Hills, Rowland Heights, La Habra, Brea, Yorba Linda, and Diamond Bar.
“I have lived in the 31st District for 40 years,” Dutton said. “I met my wife in this district. My daughter was born and raised in this district. She went to schools in this district. I have served as a city councilman, assemblyman and state senator for the people living in this district. Mr. Miller comes from outside the area. He is certainly eligible to run for Congress in the 31st District because under federal election rules, a Congressman needs to just live in the state where the district he represents is. He could run anywhere in the state. I am a citizen statesman. I am not looking to represent some other area that I don’t know that well. When you live someplace and shop there and go to church there it is a different situation then when you are just looking for a place where you can run. I do not want to try to serve two masters. The people who live where I live are my priority. I want to take care of the people who elect me. I would not want them to worry that I won’t look after their interests because I’m living somewhere else.”