Don Leroy Bonker was a congressman for Washington State. He was born on March 7, 1937 in Denver, Colorado. He attended public school in Westminster, Colorado. He attended Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, where he received an Associate of Arts degree. In 1962, he finished his Bachelor of Arts at Lewis and Clark College. He got his graduate degree in 1964 at American University in Washington D.C. He served as a first class yeoman from 1955 to 1959 in the United States Coast Guard, after which he served as an aide to the United States Senator Maurine Brown Neuberger. He was a Clark County auditor in Vancouver from 1966 to 1974. From 1968 to 1970 he was a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Conventions.
In 1972, Bonker ran for secretary of state, but he lost to Republican Lud Kramer.
In 1973, he ran for the House of Representatives, running a grass-roots campaign at 37 years old. He stressed the need for abolition or revision of the seniority system in the House. He favored partial public financing of federal elections. He gained favor for his charisma, handsome appearance, and strong set of morals. People respected him for his willingness to admit that he didn’t know all of the answers all of the time.[i]
He won the election and served as a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from 1975 to 1989, as a moderate from Washington’s third Congressional district.
He was considered the House expert on trade and chaired a subcommittee on aging. He was a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade. He served on the President’s Export council and headed the House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s Trade task Force. His leadership role led to the passage of the 1988 Omnibus Trade Act.
He was a twice-born Christian, which won him evangelical support. He felt that “the state is not in the business of establishing moral standards. It is the church that has the responsibility of setting the oral tone in society, and if today there is widespread immorality, it may be the church, not the state, which ahs failed.”[ii] He had a style akin to Kennedy’s, he was organized, and had prominent friends who aided in his political career.
In Congress, he unrelentingly pushed issues in international trade, raising his visibility in business circles state-wide. More than any other state, Washington relied on trade for its economic well-being. Today, the major cities are still port towns, unlike many of the other prospering United States hubs.
Bonker helped to solve red-tape issues for Washington exporters. Unlike many other members of the Democratic party, he resisted protectionist policies.
He was extremely interested in environmental issues. In 1987, he criticized a proposal that would permit offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling along the state’s outer continental shelf. He said that the administration repeatedly showed a “callous disregard for protection of the environment and sound ecological policy.” He said that their proposal to drill along the coast showed a willingness to squander the nation’s natural resources for short-term economic gains. He believed that the federal government should pay more attention to U.S. energy security needs. He believed they were depending too much on foreign oil imports. They needed to build up enough reserves that the nation wouldn’t be at the hands of the Persian Gulf oil-producing nations. To do so, Bonker thought that the administration needed to implement conservation measures and seek new alternatives to offshore drilling.[iii]
Bonker helped establish Grays Harbor National Refuge. He added Protection Island to the National Wildlife Refuge System and preserved the Point of Arches in the Olympic National Park. He added 250,000 acres to the 1984 Washington Wilderness Act. He managed to ban the export of Western Red Cedar from Washington State.
During his time in office, Bonker called for a balanced federal budget, legislation that would end the yo-yoing national money supply, tax incentives for people to put money in savings, a ban on log exports, and housing assistance for middle income families.
Bonker’s friend of over twenty years, Ron Dotzauer, said of Bonker. “The problem with Don is he knows so much about so many things. Its hard for Don to give you gys a 10-second sound bite. It’s a bit of a curse in this campaign environment.” He said, “He loves to read, loves to write, loves to think.” Carole Grunberg, Bonker’s legislative director in the House, called him a “glutton for detail.” [iv]
He was one of the earliest officeholders to support Booth Gardner, the 19th governor of Washington State, when he was virtually unknown in his election campaign against established favorite, state senator Jim McDermott.[v]
Currently, Bonker serves as the president and CEO of the International Management and Development Institute. He’s on the board of the Foundation for U.S.-Russia Business Cooperation, and he is the executive vice president of APCO Worldwide. He is the author of America’s Trade Crisis.
[i] Katz, Dean. “Race for House Seat Begins.” Copper Point Journal. The Evergreen State College. Olympia, Washington. <http://archives.evergreen.edu/1973/1973-01/cpj_pdfs/Volume02/CPJ-1974/v2i31cpj.pdf>.
[ii] “Bonker likens Moral Majority to Pharisees.” Walla Walla Union Bulletn. Walla Walla, Washington. October 31, 1980. <http://newspaperarchive.com/us/washington/walla-walla/walla-walla-union-bulletin/1980/10-31/page-12?tag=bonker&rtserp=tags/?psi=101&pci=7&ndt=by&py=1978&pey=1986&pl=bonker>.
[iii] “Offshore exploration plan blasted.” Walla Walla Union Bulletin. Walla Walla, Washington. June 14, 1987. <http://newspaperarchive.com/us/washington/walla-walla/walla-walla-union-bulletin/1987/06-14/page-4?tag=bonker&rtserp=tags/?psi=101&pci=7&ndt=by&py=1978&pey=1986&pl=bonker>
[iv] “Don Bonker.” The Spokesman Review. August 11, 1992. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1314&dat=19920811&id=kF5WAAAAIBAJ&sjid=RvADAAAAIBAJ&pg=2404,178144>.
[v] “Gardner expects state fallout from stock market crisis.” Walla Walla Union Bulletin. Walla Walla, Washington. October 28, 1987. http://newspaperarchive.com/us/washington/walla-walla/walla-walla-union-bulletin/1987/10-28/page-5?tag=bonker&rtserp=tags/?psi=101&pci=7&ndt=by&py=1978&pey=1986&pl=bonker