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Davis, California

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Column: An election Dunn right

No matter what life throws at you, you can rise above.

For myself, I’ve been reasonably lucky. I was born in a very prosperous nation to middle-class parents, being generally healthy and extremely fortunate to meet my wonderful wife at a young age. I’ve had my share of hardships, but I am grateful for my many blessings, up to and including a bountiful crop of tomatoes and peppers this year despite my incompetent gardening.

But the road was a little tougher for some people, even in America. Take the Republican candidate for California Secretary of State, Damon Dunn. Born to a 16-year-old single mother, Dunn was handed a life of extreme poverty, growing up with 10 people in a small trailer. According to his website, “Damon grew up hunting and fishing as means to provide food, and wore Salvation Army clothes. From these humble beginnings, Damon learned the value – and the rewards – of hard work, which he has demonstrated throughout his life.”

Dunn made it to Stanford where he achieved both academic and athletic greatness.

He played in the NFL for a number of years, retiring to become a very successful realtor and business owner. Having never campaigned before or even been appreciably political, Dunn is now running for statewide office and getting some national attention for his amazing biography.

As well he should. Dunn is an American success story, a testament to perseverance and individual accomplishment. He overcame severe poverty and refused to let potential racial issues derail his determination, achieving by the age of 34 what few do in a lifetime. But I believe Dunn’s incredible triumph holds a lesson for us all.

Sometimes – not always – we can get overly caught up in what troubles we face. No one is handed a perfect life from start to finish. Some get more advantages than others, but we can’t go around obsessing over what’s “fair” and whether life was “more fair” to others instead of us.

We can’t choose the life we’re born into. We can choose what we do with it.

Injustice is injustice. Racism must be stamped out, sexism shunned, bigotry in any form eliminated. The poor should be helped, and every one of us should do so. But at a certain point it’s time to just work hard and do right.

In college – and sometimes in grad school – we are carefully trained to see the disadvantages various groups have. These disadvantages are not to be ignored, indeed not to be tolerated, but they can never be built up into such overbearing superstructures that the extraordinary ability of every human being to soar is forgotten. Dunn sure hasn’t forgotten it.

“When I was 12 years old, I was a class clown, and one day my teacher had enough of it and she put me out of the classroom,” Dunn says in a short video on his background.

“And I remember sitting in the hallway and the janitor walked by. And he told me, he said, ‘Look into that classroom.’ I looked in there, and he said, ‘Well what do you see?’ And I didn’t say anything because I was embarrassed. And he said, ‘What I see in there are a bunch of kids learning how to be your boss.'”

From then on Dunn became a good student, driven by his own desire to excel and not let anyone “be his boss.” He did not allow external factors to control his life, proving that so much of achievement is based internally.

As vote-by-mail ballots are cast every day and Nov. 2 approaches, we must decide between Dunn and the incumbent Secretary of State, Debra Bowen. Her office has been delightfully helpful in providing me with the various voter statistics that anyone working in politics needs. But if the question is about who is more likely to end our new era of malaise, the answer is probably not someone who has been in a position of power in government since 1992.

The answer is someone like Damon Dunn.

Provide your own answer to ROB OLSON at rwolson@ucdavis.edu.


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