Clinton Dotson McKinnon, a newspaper publisher who served in Congress half a century ago when he was the last representative for all of San Diego County, has died. He was 95.
McKinnon, who served from 1948 to 1952 before redistricting gave the county two seats in Congress, died Saturday in La Jolla of causes associated with age.
The two-term Democratic congressman ingratiated himself to constituents by fighting for water rights, not only in San Diego but throughout the Southwest, and helping to bring Colorado River water to the county.
He also intervened to help solve a dispute between the federal government and farmers in the Fallbrook area over water from the Santa Margarita River. Farmers claimed federal authorities were ruining them by diverting water needed for irrigation to military facilities at Camp Pendleton. McKinnon helped speed construction of a dam to ease the standoff.
In the early 1950s, he also moved to increase tariffs on imported canned tuna from Japan and South America in a futile attempt to preserve the tuna cannery business in Southern California.
In 1952, McKinnon attempted to move up to the U.S. Senate by challenging incumbent Republican Sen. William Knowland. But the Democrat was not well-known statewide and got trounced in the landslide for Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower. "That was not a good year," McKinnon quipped years later, "to be a Democrat."
He went back to his regular profession--running small newspapers. Not that he had left all thoughts of it behind during his four years in Washington. He once told the National Production Authority, an economic body, it ought to get "a good newspaper rewrite man" to interpret its overly complex regulations of small businesses.
"The businessman is having a difficult time making heads or tails of those orders," McKinnon told the group. He said the regulations should at least be accompanied by a summary written "by a man who writes what people can read and understand."
Born in Dallas, McKinnon was raised by his mother, a nurse, after his father died when he was 12. He grew up to own and run several newspapers in Texas and California.
After publishing community newspapers in North Hollywood, he settled in San Diego and on March 17, 1944, became the only person to start a daily newspaper during World War II. That was the San Diego Journal, which was later absorbed by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Hard-working and personable, McKinnon was a hands-on publisher who knew his staff and their children's names. He employed several future leaders, including current Union-Tribune associate editor and senior columnist Neil Morgan and Lionel Van Deerlin, who later served 18 years in Congress.
Van Deerlin told the Union-Tribune that McKinnon waged a difficult uphill battle against his larger competitors from 1944 until 1948. "He would offer six silver knives for a six-month subscription to the Journal," Van Deerlin said, "and the Tribune would counter by offering a weekend in Catalina."
McKinnon seemingly became a mentor to future politicians--not only Van Deerlin, but both of his own sons. Mike McKinnon, who now owns two Texas newspapers and is managing co-owner of KUSI-TV in San Diego and co-owner of San Diego Home-Garden Magazine, served one term in the Texas Senate. Clinton Dan McKinnon, a conservative Republican in contrast to his liberal Democrat dad, ran unsuccessfully for Congress, then was named by President Ronald Reagan as head of the Civil Aviation Board.
Among other newspapers owned by McKinnon at different times were the La Jolla Light and the Coronado Journal. He also founded radio station KCBQ, originally under the call letters KSDJ.
McKinnon is survived by his wife, Lucille; two sons; a daughter, Connie McKinnon of New York; and seven grandchildren.
Services are planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday at Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, 1675 Garnet Ave. The family has asked that any memorial donations be sent to the Midway Baptist Church Youth Program.