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Don Bonker might have become the state's senior U. S. Senator but for encountering Patty Murray in the 'Year of the Woman'

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Don Bonker might have become the state's senior U. S. Senator but for encountering Patty Murray in the 'Year of the Woman'

Bonker, a friend for more than half a century, might well have become this state's senior U.S. Senator had he not encountered Patty Murray in the race for the 1992 Democratic Senate nomination.

Bonker's political credentials as a seven-term Congressman from the Third District in Southwest Washington and a congressional leader on trade issues, were far more impressive than those of Murray, a state legislator.

But Murray had the benefit of being 'The Mom in Tennis Shoes" in the year Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were elected in California and Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois as the first black female in the Senate, in what became widely known as "The Year of the Woman."

Those four women were sworn in the following Congress, the first time the Senate had welcomed four new women senators, all the result of people believing Anita Hill wasn't lying in her accusations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. So other men paid the price for Thomas in that political year.

Bonker's trade credentials, both those he earned during his 14 years in Congress from 1974 to 1988 and from his involvements thereafter, gained him broad respect in this country and abroad for his trade and foreign investment knowledge.

Mike FlynnDon Bonker

I got to know Bonker well from the late '60s when he was in his early '30s and an innovative auditor from Clark County, laying the groundwork for an intended but unsuccessful run for secretary of state. I was UPI's state political editor in Olympia in my late '20s.

We got together at many Democratic gatherings, I as reporter and he as participant, spending time together since we were usually the two youngest people in the room.

Later, after his first unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate when he lost the nomination bid to the late Mike Lowry, I had him write a regular trade-issues column for Puget Sound Business Journal.

During his tenure in Congress, Bonker authored and was a principal sponsor of significant trade legislation, including the Export Trading Company Act and the Export Administration Act. I had fun telling friends occasionally when Bonker came up in conversation that after he left Congress, we met for lunch and he gave me a photo of us that had been taken at a 1968 political fundraiser for Sen. Martin Durkan and that had hung on his wall during his years in Congress.

After sharing the story, I then added with a chuckle that the reason the photo with me had hung on his wall was because of the third person in the photo, then-Sen. Birch Bayh of Indiana, a Democratic presidential hopeful and one of Bonker's heroes.

Bonker, in recent years, had traveled back and forth regularly from his Bainbridge Island home to Washington, D.C., where he was an executive director and on the international advisory council of APCO Worldwide, global public affairs & strategic communications consultancy.

We hadn't visited for a decade or more when I suggested that we have lunch so I could learn about his then-newly published autobiography called Dancing to the Capitol. The book begins with what the foreword describes as "a wry take on his brief stint as a dance instructor, which gives the book its title and its spirit."

The foreword, by former Los Angeles Times editor Shelby Coffey who is now vice chairman of the Museum, describes Bonker as "a man of faith--often struggling with being both a Democrat and a Christian," and noting that Bonker helped bring the National prayer breakfast to international prominence.

"He has been a key, if quiet, force for others of faith who contend in public life," Coffey wrote.

"My own achievements on international trade, human rights, preserving our natural resources happened only because of bipartisan support," Bonker wrote in his 2020 autobiography, "A Higher Calling: Faith and Politics in the Public Square."

I got together with Bonker for lunch again a year or so ago and invited Brian Baird, who became Third District Congressman a decade after Bonker left the office, to join us.

So I asked Baird this weekend for his thoughts on Bonker: "He was a friend. Mentor. Role model and outstanding public servant, who served our state in countless ways right to the end. He stayed engaged and informed and always found ways to make a difference."

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