Bonker bids for secretary of state
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:08 PM
"Don Bonker wants to keep the Washington Secretary of State's office in island hands.And the former seven-term congressman says he is more qualified than any of the other 10 aspirants who want to succeed Bainbridge Island's Ralph Munro, who is retiring after 20 years in the office. The secretary of state's most important formal duty, Bonker says, is overseeing state elections, and he had on-the-job training as Clark County auditor, where he oversaw local elections. The secretary's most important informal job is as a trade ambassador, and Bonker says he learned that aspect of the job as former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee.I think my credentials really stand out, the Democratic candidate said. I think I have more experience and maturity than anyone else who has ever served as secretary of state.But experience at doing what? The state constitution says only that the secretary of state shall keep a record of the official acts of the legislature, and executive department of the state, and shall, when required, lay the same, and all matters relative thereto, before either branch of the legislature.By statute, the secretary of state has been assigned the responsibility of supervising statewide elections. And the office also acts as a record-keeper for corporate filings.That meager list of duties, mostly of a clerical nature, hardly explains why the secretary of state office has drawn 11 candidates, more aspirants than for any other statewide office.Indeed, the appeal of the job may lie, at least in part, on the fact that the job is what the incumbent makes of it. It was Munro who essentially appointed himself as a state ambassador. And Bonker thinks that is an excellent use of the office.Foreign trade delegations expect a high-level reception from an elected official, and the governor can't do it all, Bonker said. Bonker said the greatest need for a trade ambassador is in the agricultural area.Boeing and Microsoft have tremendous groups of people involved in foreign marketing, Bonker said. But agriculture is more fragmented. It needs the help. And it has really been the backbone of America's trade activities.This year, the secretary of state's formal duties will be anything but routine. In June, the United States Supreme Court declared unconstitutional blanket primaries, in which any voter may participate in any party's primary election. Washington has used the blanket primary for years.When Munro refused to change Washington's system for this September's primary election, the state Democratic Party filed suit. In July, the state and both parties signed off on a court stipulation stating that a blanket primary could be held this year, but that the system will be changed thereafter.The secretary of state will be on the hot seat, Bonker said. The secretary will have to rewrite the state law while accommodating a growing number of independent voters. It's bound to be volatile.Bonker said he had no agenda, but said the important thing will be to consult with the political parties and legislative leadership to come up with an acceptable solution that still meets the requirements of the Supreme Court decision.Another issue Bonker expects to arise is the idea of a regional primary election to give the state more clout in the presidential-selection process. It's no secret that Iowa and New Hampshire get extraordinary clout in an administration because of their importance in choosing candidates, Bonker said about the states that have the first-in-the nation presidential caucuses and elections, respectively.We may want to be early to make our vote count more, he said.Bonker was born in Colorado in 1937, and found himself in Vancouver, Wash., after a stint in the Coast Guard. At age 28, he was elected Clark County auditor. Then in 1974, he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Washington's third district.In 1988, he left the House to run for the United States Senate, but lost in the primary. He tried again for the Senate in 1992, with the same result.Since 1989, Bonker has worked for APCO Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting and lobbying group.Bonker's Bainbridge connection comes through wife Carolyn. Her grandfather, Peter Ekern, owned a 31-acre farm on what is now Sunrise Bluff. Her father Kermit grew up on the island, then travelled throughout the state in his career with the Washington State Patrol.I used to go to the farm every summer, Carolyn Bonker said. I tom-boyed all over the island in the woods and on the beaches.In 1988, a portion of the family farm became available. The Bonkers bought the easterly acre-plus. They now divide their time between the compact New England style home on the western edge of the property, with a large lawn between them and the bluff on the east, and their D.C.-area home.This house is where the nurses who will take care of us when we're old will live, Carolyn said. Someday we'll build our house in the open area to the east.Bonker filed for secretary of state only two weeks ago.There were some tough decisions to make in terms of moving everything to Washington, taking on the campaign and the job, and taking the income reduction, he said.But he still can't entirely explain why he made the decision to run.It's an important job with a great opportunity for public service, he said. Lots of people have asked me why. But I ask, why not? "