By Mark Gutglueck
Bob Dutton, who was able to convert the status, wealth, advantage and corporate connections provided to him by his father into a political career at the municipal, state legislative and then at the county level, has died.
Despite a relative dearth of talent and meager managerial, business, administrative and electioneering acumen, Dutton nonetheless was able, based on his familial circumstance, to find his way in the world and achieve political success that eluded far more capable and ambitious candidates for public office in San Bernardino County.
The authority Dutton came to possess surpassed that of others with more and clearer vision, superior dedication and a far stronger work ethic, all of which ultimately came to embody a metaphor for San Bernardino County itself, a geographically huge but comparatively primitive and some have argued socially challenged backwater to neighboring Los Angeles County, one of the most dynamic and culturally significant jurisdictions in California, the nation and the world. Dutton came to be a major player on the political landscape, not on the basis of ability but rather money, both that available to him through his father and those he networked with as a fellow suede shoe-shod and Italian suit-clad businessman whose first priority in office was to protect his and their collective financial interests. Robert Dale Dutton was born in Lincoln, Nebraska on October 13, 1950 to Dorothy Gould and Ted Dutton. He came to Southern California after graduating from high school, where at the height of the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Army Reserve, transitioning, eventually, to the California Air National Guard, where by 1974 he achieved the rank of sergeant. He attended Los Angeles Valley College, from which in 1972 he was awarded an associate degree in real estate.
He involved himself in local service organizations in his mid-twenties, including the Kiwanis Club, the YMCA and the Red Cross.
His father, Ted Dutton, had transplanted to Southern California as well, as did his brother, Jerry.
Ted Dutton was an energetic and resourceful entrepreneur, known as a wheeler-dealer, sophisticated in making contacts among other movers and shakers, many of whom were politicians. Over the years, Ted Dutton created or would be instrumental in founding or otherwise building up a multitude of businesses and entrepreneurial undertakings, including Urban Advisors; Foothill Cape, Limited, Eagle Vision; Security Investment; Security Advisors, Limited; The Cadiz Land Company; Thistle Sage, Limited; Da Quail, Limited; L.T.D. Coastal Corp; Security Financial Concepts; School Facility Advisors, Inc.; Virginia Dare, Limited; Brutoco Construction Management Group; Lake Park Associates; and Upland Game, Ltd.
By the 1970s, Ted Dutton had come to recognize that the Inland Empire, primarily San Bernardino County, with its then-dirt-cheap land which could be rezoned very easily and sold for a profit or provided with an entitlement to build and sold for a greater profit or actually developed to provide an ever-greater profit still, represented the wave of the future.
Among those Ted Dutton formed a partnership with was Robert Townsend, who was at that time a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors representing the Fourth District, which then included Chino, Ontario, Montclair, and then-unincorporated Chino Hills, Guasti and southern Fontana, where he had property investments.
In 1980, Ted Dutton and his partner, George Voigt purchased Ontario Motor Speedway for approximately $26.64 million and in a 45-day double escrow unloaded it to the Chevron Land Company, a division of Chevron Corporation, for $35 million, turning a quick $8 million profit.
His father’s sale of the speedway became a major turning point in Bob Dutton’s life. That money would bankroll a further set of Ted’s investments, which included ventures with Bob, who at that point had become something of his protégé, as Ted was willing to have Bob join him on the business side of things while Jerry was given the responsibility of maintaining the properties as a janitor, gardener and custodian.
One of the places where Ted and Bob concentrated their investment and development activity was Rancho Cucamonga, which had incorporated in 1977 from the disparate but geographically contiguous communities of Alta Loma, Cucamonga and Etiwanda. Over the first decade of that city’s incorporation, it would grow from a population of around 30,000 to approaching 88,000, with intensified housing construction being carried out by Lewis Homes, the William F. Lyon Company, the Caryn Company and others.
A major project the Duttons involved themselves in was the salvaging of the dilapidated Virginia Dare Winery, what had originally been built in 1908 as the “Mission Winery,” by a French vintner invited to America by the U.S. Government to create the flourishing Cucamonga Wine Region and who had used available regional Chinese labor to construct the works, which was then purchased in 1910 by the Brooklyn, New York-based descendants of Dr. Frank Garrett, who had begun producing wine in North Carolina in the 1830s. The Mission Winery was renamed the Virginia Dare Winery, at one time producing wine fermented and aged in huge redwood casks with a capacity of 52,000 gallons from grapes harvested from over 750 acres of vineyards in Cucamonga and Etiwanda. During Prohibition, the winery had survived by producing sacramental wine for the Catholic Church and was then revived into regular operations with the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. It remained in operation, with Sam Elder as its Vintner, until 1960, at which point the Garrett Company shuttered the operation. Elder went into the real estate business. Beginning in 1962, Selmur Productions, television series creator Robert Pirosh and executive producer Selig Seligman began using the Virginia Dare Winery grounds for location shooting of the ABC television show Combat! because it resembled any number of bombed out French villages during World War II. In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the property continued to deteriorate.
Located as it was at the northwest corner of Foothill Boulevard and Haven Avenue, a high-profile location along Route 66 and at the very heart of Rancho Cucamonga, the property, which at that point was a full-blown eyesore, was something of an embarrassment to the community and city officials. When the Duttons offered to develop the property into a business park/commercial center and threw in the sop of preserving part of the original winery, that being its majestic bell tower, the city jumped at the offer. At the intersection of Haven and Foothill, the Virginia Dare Business Center, on the northwest corner, stood catercorner to Barton Plaza, which eventually came to entail two modern four-story office buildings at the southeast corner. Undeniably, with the Virginia Dare undertaking, the father and son team had outdone everyone else, and to this day, more than three decades later, the center the Duttons created is Rancho Cucamonga’s flagship public space and most iconic landmark.
Using his share of the profits realized from his joint venture with his father, Bob established Dutton & Associates, Inc., a real estate company that never quite achieved long-term independent success, but was propped up by periodic infusions of monetary support from his father.
Bob Dutton moved to intensify his influence in the city on the move, joining the Chamber of Commerce. He acceded to a position on the chamber board and, ultimately, became board president.
Unlike his father, however, the younger Dutton was heavy-handed, indeed ham-fisted in his approach to the business world and the social milieu that accompanied it. Ted possessed a keen intellect and sensitivity to nuance which allowed him to get in front of developing trends. Whereas like his namesake he talked softly and carried a big stick, using a humble persona to speak modestly and suggest persuasively rather than argue while allowing his wealth and connections to remain in the background, his son was brash and aggressive, and not reluctant or shy to throw his weight around, letting it be known that he would bring the monetary sources at his command – meaning his father’s fortune – to bear if need be to get his way if those he was dealing with resisted the direction he wanted to move in. Bob’s was a one-dimensional formula of bullying and intimidation, at first asking nicely to define for others what it was that he wanted but then raising his voice and becoming threatening if his interlocutor did not comply with his wishes. Those in his circle learned that things were to be done his way and resolved to his satisfaction. Within the collective that was the Rancho Cucamonga business community and the political establishment that was financially backed by the business community, ideas were not judged on their merit but as to whether they were consistent with the goals and financial interests Dutton and the core of investors and developers he was associated with had staked out for themselves. Individuals or entities which did not align themselves with the political hierarchy at Rancho Cucamonga City Hall and march to the same drum were ostracized by Dutton and those in his clique.
Bob Dutton’s efforts to use the Rancho Cucamonga Chamber of Commerce as a fulcrum in his business dealings was a case in point. In the mid-1980s, a retired naval officer, Lowell Gomes, had been hired by the chamber of commerce as its executive director. Upon his having been elevated to the position of chamber president, Dutton began pressuring Gomes to take official action on behalf of the chamber which would have been to Dutton’s advantage as a real estate professional. Gomes, acutely aware that Dutton was making the request without the authorization of the board or any vote thereof, declined Dutton’s requests. For his adherence to principle, Gomes would be rewarded by Dutton with public castigation for not doing what he was being improperly ordered to do.
Despite Dutton having overstepped his authority, the other members of the chamber board and the general membership of the chamber were unwilling to challenge Dutton over what he had done, acutely conscious of his relative financial firepower and willingness to use it against those with whom he had differences.
Ted Dutton’s instincts had always been to ingratiate himself with and continue to get along with the powers that be, best described as the political establishment and whoever embodied it wherever it was that he was involved in investing or developing or operating. Bob Dutton, essentially, took a leaf out of his father’s book in this regard, and used the full range of resources at his disposal – money in the form of donations to the political war chests of those in office, putting the arm on his friends, associates and businesses partners to do likewise, sponsoring fundraisers, providing candidate endorsements, allowing the more opulent property under his control to serve as a forum for politicians’ speeches or events and offering whatever organizational or logistic assistance he could to local elected decision-makers. That support was always calculated, as his determination of whom he would support was based almost entirely on who was already in office or who stood the best chance of getting elected. In this way, the major criterion Bob Dutton used in making his political donations was not who was the best or highest-minded candidate for office, per se, but rather assurance that his donations would prove a sound investment and serve to put in office or keep in office politicians who would be amenable to protecting or furthering his interests.
In one notable instance, Dutton deviated from that norm, challenging an entrenched politician when a policy pushed by that politician was not to his liking. In 1986, Dennis Stout was elected mayor in what was Rancho Cucamonga’s first direct mayoral election, after the council for nine years had entrusted the city council to confer the honorific of mayor upon a member of its own ranks. Initially, Dutton had supported Stout, who previously had been a member of the planning commission, and who had accorded in that capacity approval of the projects Dutton and his father had pursued. Indeed, as a member of the chamber of commerce and in his own right as one of the pillars of the Rancho Cucamonga Community, Dutton had sponsored the annual Mayor’s Ball, a formal black-tie affair for which tickets cost $125 to $175, the proceeds from which would go to a charity selected by the mayor.
In 1990, Stout, who was at that time a deputy district attorney and would later accede to the position of San Bernardino County District Attorney, had gone on a public safety kick in which he and members of the city council had directed the city manager to look into the sometimes drunken revelry that was taking place at various nightspots around the city, and accompanying reports of drug-related activity or drug dealing inside those establishments and in their parking lots involving the younger set. Then-Rancho Cucamonga City Manager Jack Lam had detailed members of the city’s code enforcement division to make an examination of those accusations and take action as appropriate where circumstances as they were found to be so dictated. Indeed, code enforcement officers did issue several citations, including repeated ones to operations run by restaurateur Harry Chan, which, based on the city’s code, upon compounding grew to first $25,000 and then $50,000. This resulted in the closure of some nightclubs, including one from which Bob Dutton derived a considerable monthly lease payment.
In retaliation, Dutton withdrew his personal support and induced the chamber of commerce and other local entrepreneurs with whom he associated to withdraw their support of the mayor’s annual social event, indeed changing the outward nature of the soiree so for that year it was not billed as the mayor’s ball.
For Dutton, politics was just as it was purely defined: the wielding of power. Money flowed into business interests, which doled the money out to politicians to either help elect them or make sure they were reelected. Dutton provided that money with the understanding that those politicians were to help him.
Some of the untoward manifestations of Dutton’s personality may have been explained by the problem he had with alcohol. Over a period of five years in the middle 1990s, he was arrested three times for driving while intoxicated.
The San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy who made one of those arrests, Ken Holtz, recalled that in the course of the arrest, “Bob was cooperative, but he had a sense of entitlement. While I had him handcuffed in the back of the car, he told me that I should call [Rancho Cucamonga Sheriff’s Station Commander] Captain [Bruce] Zeiner, to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake, and didn’t get myself into trouble. I told him I didn’t need to call my captain to make a DUI arrest.”
Holtz observed of Dutton, “He seemed to glide through life. He was arrested for drunk driving twice after that. He had a Teflon coat. He was a member of the Sheriff’s Council, a group of people who were politically affiliated with the sheriff. He played that card when he needed to. I know that I would not have been able to keep my job as a deputy if I had been arrested on three DUIs, but he was able to go on to become a councilman, a state senator and assessor and whatever else.”
Over the years, several officials have related to the Sentinel taking phone calls from Dutton at 9 and 10 at night, at which point they would have to endure what were obviously alcohol-fueled tirades.
The business community took care of the politicians and it was therefore, Dutton believed, up to the politicians to take care of the business community, or at least that portion of the business community that had participated in getting the politicians elected. That was his philosophy before he was elected to office and the philosophy he lived by once he was in office. One of the functions of government was to regulate the private sector and Dutton believed it was the job of politicians to prevent government from overregulating.
In 2000, well after Dennis Stout had moved on from being mayor to being district attorney, Dutton ran successfully for the Rancho Cucamonga City Council. The outcome was never in doubt in the race for two positions that year. He outspent both of the other candidates in the race, incumbent Paul Biane and newcomer Maryann Sebelist, combined, polling 21,628 votes or 39.1 percent, slightly behind Biane’s 21,984 votes or 39.8 percent, and not quite double the 11,598 votes or just over 21 percent Sebelist received.
Dutton spent only two years on the city council, during which he supported enlarging the fire department and increasing the scope of the city’s contract with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to put more deputies on patrol around what was then a 39.89-square mile city.
In 2002, Assemblyman Bill Leonard was termed out of the California Legislature, and Dutton made a deft and easy transition from municipal elected official to being a state politician. He liquidated a portion of the real estate holdings he had been provided by his father to finance that electoral run. He first scored a relatively tight victory over Susan Peppler for the Republican nomination with 12,200 votes or 44.5 percent to her 10,509 votes or 38.3 percent, followed by Sam Stavros with 4,698 votes or 17.1 percent in the March primary before going on to trounce Democrat Doris Wallace in that year’s November General Election, 48,617 votes or 61 percent to 31,012 votes or 38.9 percent. He spent a relatively undistinguished two years in the Assembly with no notable legislative accomplishments.
In 2004, Jim Brulte, the one-time Republican Leader of the Assembly who twice narrowly missed becoming Assembly speaker and who later proved a dominating figure as the Republican Leader of the California Senate, was termed out of office. In a special arrangement, Dutton was anointed to replace Brulte as California State Senator in the 31st District. After he faced no opposition for the Republican nomination during the March 2004 primary, he received overwhelming GOP assistance in the November General Election, comfortably outdistancing his Democratic rival, Marjorie Mikels, 170,900 votes or 59.50 percent to 116,312 or 40.50 percent.
Under the arrangement that put him into the State Senate, Dutton served, essentially, as Brulte’s surrogate in California’s upper legislative house. In 1990, the Republicans had orchestrated the imposition of term limits in California, a move they hoped would stem the influence of the Democrats, in particular longtime Assembly Speaker Willie Brown. They had expounded the philosophy that entrenched politicians continuing to hold, year-after-year, election cycle-after-election cycle and in some cases for a generation or more the same elected position represented a bastardization of politics. In passing Proposition 140 in 1990, the voters put in place limits of three two-year terms on members of the Assembly and two four-year terms for members of the California Senate. In 2004, the impact of Proposition 140 came home for Brulte, who had been termed out of the Assembly in 1996 and thereupon had been elected to the California Senate. He had reached his maximum time in that body eight years later. By having Dutton move into his place, Brulte effectively extended his tenure as a legislator. For the next eight years, Dutton followed Brulte’s instructions. In 2010, under an arrangement engineered by Brulte, Dutton assumed the position of Republican Senate Leader, heading the 15-member GOP delegation in the 40-seat upper house.
In this way, Dutton achieved status, with Brulte being an obvious exception, as one of the most successful politicians from Rancho Cucamonga ever.
In 2012, at which point he was termed out of the Senate, he made an effort to step up to the next level as a politician, seeking election as U.S. representative in what was then California’s newly-drawn 31st Congressional District. In the June Primary, which that year was held in accordance with California’s open primary rules, he faced five others, Democrats Renea Wickman, Rita Ramirez-Dean, Justin Kim and Pete Aguilar, as well as Congressman Gary Miller, who was the incumbent Republican in California’s 42nd Congressional District. Miller captured 16,708 votes or 26.66 for first place and Dutton came in a relatively close second, with 15,557 votes or 24.82 percent. Thus, the November 2012 General Election pitted the two Republicans against one another. Dutton, up against an incumbent who had been in Washington, D.C. since 1999 and was every bit as ruthless as he was and far more energetic and sophisticated, was defeated, capturing 72,255 votes or 44.82 percent to Miller’s 88,964 or 55.18 percent.
Having been bitten by the political bug, Dutton considered running for San Bernardino County Supervisor in 2014, but the lesson he had been taught by taking on an incumbent and established Republican in the 2012 Congressional race gave him pause, and he was not willing to challenge Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford, a member of the GOP. Instead, he ran for the position of assessor, a position which was preferable to supervisor for multiple reasons. First, the position paid more money. In San Bernardino County, the assessor also serves as the county clerk and recorder, for which triple function the holder of the office was paid at that time a salary of $218,101.69, further pay of $20,384.75 and benefits of $66,506.16, for a total annual compensation of $304,992.60. Comparatively, a member of the board of supervisors was not paid as well, receiving at that time $151,690.24 in salary, $17,000.10 in pay additions and $49,825.74, for a total annual compensation of $218,516.08.
Every bit as importantly, the county assessor is the county’s highest taxing authority, a position of tremendous power, leverage and influence. Not only does the assessor determine the value of real estate, which has a direct bearing on taxes to be paid by residents on their homes, his authority extends to determining the value of buildings, offices, headquarters and factories, machinery and equipment used by businesses, which impacts the taxes those entities pay. The tax burden an entrepreneur, company, venture or corporation must bear can have a dramatic – indeed a controlling or make-or-break – impact on a business, influencing whether it is able to remain as a going concern.
In the 2014 election, Dutton ran against Dan Harp, the assistant assessor who had 34 years’ experience in the assessor’s office. Both were looking to succeed Dennis Draeger, who was retiring as the assessor/county clerk/county recorder.
The race was touch and go. Dutton ran a campaign that was far better financed than Harp’s, one in which the former state legislator spent more than six times the amount of money than did his opponent on all forms of electioneering, including mailers, radio ads, television spots, getting his name listed on slate mailers, newspaper ads, campaign signs and phone banks. Harp’s credentials consisted primarily of his command of what the assessor’s job entailed, his far greater experience and his overall familiarity with the office he was seeking to head. The outcome of the voting was incredibly close, with Dutton claiming victory by a slim majority, with 73,549 votes or 50.61 percent of the vote to Harp’s 71,783 or 49.39 percent.
In 2018, no one surfaced to oppose Dutton for the position of assessor/county clerk/recorder, which by that point paid him a salary of $246,644.55, add-ons and perquisites of $17,000.10 and benefits of $93,732.51, for a total annual compensation of $357,377.16.
In 2019, word spread that a deal had been cut so that in 2022, at which point Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford was to be termed out of office, she would run for assessor and Dutton would seek her position on the board of supervisors.
As a Republican, Dutton outwardly embraced a pro-business philosophy and mouthed slogans decrying the Democrats for excessive regulation and high taxation that hamstrung entrepreneurs and crippled the growth of the economy. He vowed that as an elected official, he would work tirelessly to get government off the backs of the citizens it governed so they might prosper. In office, however, he did not always live up to that commitment, particularly when doing so entailed inconvenience, extra effort or focus on complicated details on his part.
Throughout his time as assessor, there were numerous and repeated examples of office shortcomings, as attested by the record of successful appeals of the assessments on property to the assessment appeals board.
Perhaps the most glaring indication of his inadequacy in the three positions to which he was elected was his performance in the role of county clerk.
A primary function of the county clerk’s office is the registration of businesses in the county, including the identities under which those businesses operate, referred to as fictitious business names. To a considerable extent, banking institutions rely upon the county clerk’s office to verify that the company an individual claims to have set up actually exists before that institution will create a banking/savings/checking account in the name of the company and provide checks and other financial services to the proprietor. As part of the fictitious business name process, would-be business operators fill out paperwork giving a host of particulars relating to the business which are then kept on file by the county clerk’s office for the five-year duration during which the fictitious name is deemed operative.
A part of that process entails giving public notice of the business name, its ownership and location, type of business, date of registration and other pertinent details. In California, that public notice by law is provided by newspapers adjudicated to do so within the county where the businesses are registered. Historically, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the transactions relating to the business registrations were carried out at the offices of the county clerk maintained throughout the county. With the public facility closure mandates that came about with the intensification of the pandemic, for a time fictitious businesses registrations were discontinued entirely and then resumed, but were not processed at the county facilities housing the county clerk’s office but rather remotely and digitally. These transactions were carried out electronically or by mail on all ends, both between those registering a business and the county clerk’s office as well as the newspapers that provided the public noticing of the business being registered and the county clerk’s office, involving exchanges of documents both digitally and by means of the U.S. Post Office. Curiously, after the state mandates relating to the closure of public facilities were lifted, Dutton, as the San Bernardino County clerk, did not reopen his offices but rather continued the policy of remote registration and on-line and postal submission of the proofs of publication of the noticing for name registrations. In making what appeared to be a permanent transition away from face-to-face interaction of personnel with the county clerk’s office involving both entrepreneurs and the employees of the county’s 40 newspapers, the county clerk’s office compounded the delays and difficulties the changeover in policy presented by refusing to accept electronic signatures on the documents being submitted to it digitally, despite the consideration that the county had itself gone to a system utilizing electronic signatures in processing the fictitious business name filings. The coup de grâce came when the county discontinued the practice that had been in existence for more than five decades of accepting from the newspapers submitting the proofs of publication of the fictitious business name noticing two such documents, one of which was stamped by a deputy county clerk as certified and put in the county clerk’s file and the other which was stamped as certified and returned to the newspaper as a conformed copy, which would then provide it to the business owner who could present it to his or her bank to open an account for that business. This change and complication, more than any other defeated a key purpose for which the entire fictitious business name registration process existed. Instead, having deprived both business registrants and newspapers an opportunity to deal directly with his deputy county clerks at the various county clerk’s offices and obtain documentation that the businesses were registered, Dutton moved to a policy of charging either the newspapers or the business owners for proof that the business registrations had been publicly noticed and completed. This not only made the registration process more expensive, it further delayed the business owners in demonstrating to their banks that they were officially ready to begin transacting business.
As a consequence, at first dozens, then scores, eventually hundreds and by this point over a thousand businesses were either thwarted, or seriously delayed, in opening up banking and financial accounts for their businesses. Some discontinued operating as a result.
Alarm with what the county clerk’s office was doing came about as early as last fall, at a point after the public facility closure mandates ended and the San Bernardino County Hall of Records in San Bernardino, in which the main office for the county clerk is located, reopened. Despite the opening, those wishing to interact with county clerk personnel by coming into the Hall of Records were unable to do so without having first scheduled an appointment. Upon scheduling an appointment and meeting with a deputy county clerk, newspaper employees were informed that the proofs of publication would not be accepted over the counter but had to be submitted digitally by email or physically by U.S. Mail.
Thereafter, beginning late in 2021 and continuing into this year, when newspaper publishers and their representatives sought to meet with Dutton, the elected county clerk who was directly responsible for the performance of his office, he was consistently unavailable. He was equally inaccessible by telephone.
What is now known is that Dutton had developed prostate cancer more than three years ago. It had progressed undetected and by last summer had reached a critical stage. The Sentinel is reliably informed that on three separate occasions late last year paramedics had been summoned to his residence when he suffered a medical emergency.
Before the end of 2021, Dutton learned that his cancer had metastasized and had reached his bones.
Nevertheless, he chose to seek reelection as assessor/county clerk/recorder, the total annual remuneration for which has grown to $409,540.07, when the filing period for county positions opened on February 14, 2022. As had been the case four years previously, Dutton’s status as an entrenched incumbent with substantial name recognition and virtually unlimited fundraising capability discouraged anyone who might have contemplated running against him. When the filing period for elected county government offices closed on March 11, 2022, Dutton was the sole candidate in the race.
Throughout the late 1980s and the 1990s when he had been a major backer and contributor to the Republican Party and subsequently, when he had become an elected official himself, Dutton repeatedly bewailed the approach toward governance advocated and carried out by his rival Democrats, asserting they were interfering with the free market and the rights of entrepreneurs and pursuing anti-business policies. Yet, upon assuming the post of county clerk, a position which carried with it tremendous impact in facilitating the creation of businesses and providing them with a primary tool allowing them to operate, Dutton, in the face of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, changed the office’s policies and basic level of function in such a way that obstructed an untold number of businesses from operating and retarded the county’s economic recovery. It was not clear during the last several months of his life whether he fully understood the role his office played in this regard and the impact the policies he was ultimately responsible for putting into place were having. Nor is it clear whether his office’s recent dysfunction reflected a basic lack of understanding on his part with regard to the services one of the divisions of the county he headed provided and what impact the shift in policy he instituted was having or whether this was a consequence of his deteriorating health as his cancer progressed.
Though circumstances had given him a glimpse of how incapacitated he was becoming, Dutton chose to seek reelection, knowing he would not likely be able to serve out his full term, resulting either in the expense of having to hold a special election to ensure that the county’s residents are represented by an elected assessor/county clerk and recorder or giving to the board of supervisors control over who would fill the position. Earlier this year, the Sentinel has learned, during a social gathering in which several of those with whom he has been politically affiliated, it was state with confidence that the Republican political machine which is built around multiple current officeholders has perfected the art of campaigning so that each of the GOP’s anointed candidates is free to engage in promotion of himself or herself while several independent expenditure committees that have been formed as adjuncts to that machine can run negative campaigns attacking his or her opponents. Advantaged with that capability, Dutton chose to stay in office, knowing that there was virtually no prospect he could be successfully challenged. Four decades, three decades and as recently as two decades ago, Dutton was bewailing that “career politicians” were damaging the nation, the State of California and local government by holding on to office at any price to benefit themselves with no regard for serving their constituents and their needs. After spending 20 of the last 22 years in elected office, Dutton had himself become a career politician, one so intent on staying in office that he ran for reelection knowing he was dying and had little prospect of fulfilling the position and term which he had convinced the voters to entrust to him.
It is unclear how many people knew of how closely mortality was dogging his every step. He was under no legal obligation to reveal his medical condition to anyone other than his family and close friends, and perhaps not even them. The Sentinel did not learn he had cancer until after his death. This week, one of his acquaintances said Dutton spoke frankly to him about it last year. It was Dutton’s purview to reveal as little or as much about his health as he chose, that acquaintance said, while suggesting there was something admirable and even noble in the way that Dutton chose to go out under his own terms.
Despite the perception of many who knew him and had interaction with him in social, business, governmental and political contexts over the last four decades that he was a self-centered and less than competent or fully capable bully whose guts were in his father’s wallet, there are those who knew him and are mourning him and celebrating him as a decent and caring man who made a mark on the world and an impression on those who came into contact with him as someone who was an accomplished member of the Rancho Cucamonga community, San Bernardino County and California as a whole.
“Bob Dutton was a dedicated public servant and trusted friend,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman and Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman, who directed that flags at county buildings fly at half-staff in honor of the former state senator. “His passion for people was evident throughout his years of service in San Bernardino County. He took so much pride in his role as assessor and I enjoyed working with him in solving problems and serving residents. It is with sadness that I hear of his recent passing. I wish his wife Andrea, daughter Kara and his entire family my deepest condolences.”
“Bob brought years of knowledge and experience to the county, and we will miss him dearly. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the entire assessor-recorder team,” said Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe.
“Bob Dutton was more than just a colleague; he was a dear friend that I had the pleasure knowing for the past two decades,” said now-retired Marine Corps Colonel Paul Cook, who is San Bernardino County’s First District supervisor. “During our time together in the state legislature and county government, I witnessed first-hand his passion for serving his constituents and his dedication to making San Bernardino County a better place to live. He will be incredibly missed.”
“Bob loved his family, his community and his country,” said Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford. “He was a leader and a generous soul, whose advocacy for taxpayers and our county will be dearly missed. Bob never let his titles or accomplishments go to his head, and he was as content looking after his dogs as he was pushing through major legislation.”
“I am sad to hear of the passing of Senator Bob Dutton,” said Sheriff Shannon Dicus. “Bob was a true public servant, dedicated to the residents of San Bernardino County. Whether serving in Sacramento, or most recently as our assessor-recorder and county clerk, Bob had the best interests of our county family in his heart. It was my profound honor to work with Bob. In 1990, Bob was invited to serve on the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Council. During his 32-years of service with the sheriff’s department, Bob’s voice provided perspective and sage advice to six sheriffs. His absence is greatly felt, and he will be truly missed. My thoughts are with his wife, family, and friends during this difficult time.”
“Bob was a good and loyal friend and a committed public servant,” said Auditor-Controller/Treasurer/Tax Collector Ensen Mason. “Condolences to his family. He will be missed.”
“I am saddened to hear about the passing of Bob Dutton,” said District Attorney Jason Anderson. “He was a great county partner proactively working with my office to prevent real estate fraud. Condolences to his family during this difficult time.”
John Mannerino, an attorney from Rancho Cucamonga who was closely affiliated with Dutton while he was engaged in investing and development during the 1980s and 1990s, was later brought on as a consultant to the county assessor’s office, pursuant to Dutton’s request of the board of supervisors, so that he could oversee the assessment appeals process.
Mannerino said Dutton was “a wonderful human being, a reliable friend, a great father, a humble public servant, a patriot and honest man who was heavy in his ideals and stuck by them. He has been unfairly maligned by his political enemies and the press. While he was still the minority leader in the Senate, he was engaged in a filibuster to keep the Democrats at bay and he stood at the podium, reading for 30 hours. After that, he fell asleep, and members of his own party, because he was running against a Republican for Congress, said he was sleeping on the job. It wasn’t true.”
Dutton, Mannerino said, “worked hard. As a politician he ran hard. He was a good guy. He was a wonderful and devoted husband to his wife. He was the most honest politician I ever met.”
Last month, in the June 7 Primary Election, Dutton was reelected county assessor with 200,752 votes. He was not, however, sworn in to the office for the term to which he was elected, which does not begin until next January. Whether Dutton not yet having assumed the position he was elected to legally precludes the board of supervisors from naming his replacement and requires that a special election be held to fill the position when the third term as assessor to which he was elected is set to commence is an open question.
The board of supervisors has not come to a determination of what its options for seeing Dutton replaced are or exactly what action it will take, the county’s spokesman, David Wert, said.
“The board of supervisors has not had an opportunity to discuss how it will approach filling the position,” Wert said. “They can only do so in public session, so a discussion would have to be agendized for a future public meeting.”
If the county’s voters are going to be called upon to vote on Dutton’s replacement in the November election, county officials will need to act with alacrity. The filing period for municipal elections in the county opened on July 18 and the filing deadline for all offices is August 12. County voter information guides are to be delivered to post offices around the county on October 4, meaning the format for the ballots, sample ballots and voter guide pamphlet will need to be finalized mid-September.
By Mark Gutglueck