If the 2008 elections are any guide, African American Republicans are in short supply, particularly in California, and particularly in high office. In 2010, Californians may witness a change.
Just thirty years ago, Damon Dunn ‘98 was a hungry child growing up in dire poverty in Fort Worth, Texas. Today, he is an accomplished businessman hoping to oust incumbent Debra Brown for California Secretary of State. His biography is compelling, and has drawn supporters to him.
Born to a 16-year-old single mother, Dunn grew up in a three-bedroom trailer that housed ten people. By the time he was three, his father had died in a car crash; by the time he was sixteen, three of his best friends had been murdered. Damon subsisted upon syrup sandwiches, Salvation Army clothes, and the dream that one day, he would be able to escape the vicious cycle of poverty.
His hard work paid off. An honors student in high school, Damon was also recognized as a Texas All-State Football player, and eventually received a scholarship to attend Stanford. His football career as a wide receiver was impressive, earning him All-Pac 10 Honors, the NCAA Academic Scholarship and the NFL and College Hall of Fame Award. Despite his commitment to football, Dunn was a diligent student. He still remembers beginning papers weeks before they were due and spending hours perfecting Economics problem sets in his TA’s office.
After Stanford, Dunn played for the NFL before starting his own real estate firm. However, despite his rags-to-riches story, Dunn still remembers what it was like to wake up hungry each morning. He credits his leadership and vision to his childhood experience.
“For my entire life, I have had to do more with less. I came here as a poor kid with a good work ethic, and went on to start my own successful small business. I want to make sure that this opportunity is available to others,” Dunn reflected.
To Dunn, whose family received welfare when he was a child, this opportunity does not come from the government.
“The government is a safety net, not a trampoline. Upward mobility comes from individual responsibility,” Dunn insists. “That’s the Republican message: personal ingenuity and innovation. The government can never spend you into success.”
An entrepreneur, Dunn recognizes the importance of California businesses and the danger of their continued departure from the state. He plans to analyze which businesses are fleeing California and why, and to institute reforms aimed at bringing them back.
Another central platform of his campaign is to increase voter participation. Currently, there are 23 million registered voters in California; however, only 16 million vote.
“Has any Secretary of State in the past fifty years travelled to the inner cities to register people to vote?” he asks. “I will go to these parts of the state and register people personally.”
Despite running as a Republican, Dunn maintains that he is a bipartisan candidate.
“I simply believe in the data and the facts. I don’t care if an idea originates from a Democrat or a Republican. In study groups at Stanford, we never asked each other about party affiliation. We just listened to each other’s input on problem sets.”
Dunn’s Stanford experience has been crucial to his success, both in politics and in the business world. His political allies include Stanford faculty and Hoover Fellows: Michael Boskin, John Cogan, George Schultz, and Peter Robinson. His connections at Stanford have provided more than political advocates, however. Dunn met his business partner in Branner, his freshman dorm.
Dunn offers advice to all Stanford students on how to achieve their dreams.
“You have to dream big and plan small. You will not drift into success. Success is intentional. You must plan your work and work your plan.”