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JOSEPH N. BELL

Dornan Has Managed to Put AIDS Back Into the News--Well, Sort of

January 19, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

I called Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) the other day to see how his AIDS fund is coming along. You will recall--or maybe you won't--that during his reelection campaign, Dornan said publicly several times that he had donated his latest congressional pay raise to AIDS hospices.

Well, what with our congressman making news by seconding George Bush's nomination at the Republican convention and being rumored for a high post in the Administration (which he didn't get) and having his microphone turned off in the House of Representatives because he refused to stop speaking when his time had expired, and joining protesters in front of the White House instead of taking part in the welcoming ceremonies for Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev--things like that--the AIDS issue got lost in the shuffle. Until now, that is.

Two actions of Dornan brought it back to our attention.

First, it was revealed that Dornan, along with three other Orange County legislators, had signed a letter denouncing an anti-discrimination ordinance in the city of Irvine. The letter (a copy of which was obtained by The Times) sought support for a group called the Irvine Values Coalition that wants to have the words "sexual orientation" deleted from the ordinance. In other words, Dornan is supporting an effort that would codify discrimination against gays by removing them from the protection offered every other citizen in our society.

A few days later, Dornan sent a letter to President-elect Bush, then called a press conference to talk about it. The letter offered Bush advice on how to deal with the AIDS epidemic. The first two points Dornan said he made in the letter hold promise: setting up a medical review board to approve the use of experimental drugs for terminally ill patients who request them and the funneling of money for AIDS patients through a single federal program. But Dornan never quits when he's ahead.

His third point was to encourage the President-elect "and your eventual surgeon general to adopt a 'Just say no' approach to dealing with the question of what constitutes safe sex." He enlarged on this by telling the assembled reporters that "if homosexuals wanted to practice safe sex by using erotic telephone conversations," that is OK with him.

Even First Lady Nancy Reagan probably never imagined the scope of activities to which her "Just say no" program might be extended. It could apply to teen-age sex or businessmen who exploit their employees or public officials on the make or traffickers in weapons or students who cheat on examinations. It could even apply to congressmen who violate the rules of the body to which they have been elected or excoriate those who happen to hold a differing point of view or muck around in local affairs that aren't even in their district. The possibilities are endless, and Dornan has clearly opened them up for us.

But sharing his feelings publicly about how this nation should deal with its homosexual community and AIDS inevitably brings to mind Dornan's alleged private funding campaign for AIDS hospices.

When asked about it on Sept. 21--in the aftermath of a shouting match between his wife and a gay activist at a public forum--he issued a statement explaining that he had not yet donated the money because he had planned to personally present a check to Mother Teresa for AIDS hospices in New York, but unfortunately she had become ill and the meeting had to be canceled. He did not explain why it was important to meet with Mother Teresa in person or why he was giving the money to help victims in New York instead of at home. Later, he said he had put the money in escrow pending a ruling on the legality of the pay raise.

So I called him in Washington to ask whether Mother Teresa is well and how the contribution is coming along. Turned out he wasn't available, and I was referred to his press secretary, Brian Bennett.

Bennett was terse, but he did bring me up to date. No, Rep. Dornan hasn't yet given his pay raise to AIDS patients and Bennett doesn't know the state of Mother Teresa's health. But wait a minute, all is not lost. There will be an announcement at the end of January about Dornan's AIDS plan. Details can't be revealed yet, I was told. Every question was deflected to waiting for the announcement.

So maybe this will all be resolved soon. Or maybe we'll have to remind him. Again.

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