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Tuesday, September 5, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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11 candidates compete for secretary-of- state post

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA - Ralph Munro's decision to hang up his bagpipes and retire as Washington's secretary of state has touched off a stampede.

In the Sept. 19 primary, voters will winnow a field of 11 candidates, including a former congressman and two-time Senate candidate, the former head of the state Democratic Party, two longtime county auditors and the House Republican caucus chairman.

Voters will choose a Republican and Democratic finalist for November, and any minor-party candidates (there are two) getting 1 percent of the statewide primary vote also will advance to the general election.

The race to succeed Munro is the most crowded of any of the races for the nine statewide offices this year. Munro calls the post the best gig in state government. The prime responsibilities are to run elections, oversee corporation filings and manage the state archives.

But Munro, a colorful character who has campaigned in a kilt, has expanded the office far beyond the official duties. He has been a goodwill and trade ambassador for the state, and has worked on saving whales and helping the developmentally disabled.

Munro is currently the only GOP statewide elected official, and the party badly wants to hang on to the office.

Of the four Republican candidates, Thurston County Auditor Sam Reed has one of the most visible campaigns. Last week he received Munro's endorsement.

Reed, 59, has some name recognition and a statewide network from his losing campaigns for state auditor in 1988 and 1992. He is a former assistant secretary of state and has been county auditor in a Democratic county for 22 years.

Reed, a leader of Republican moderates, has been endorsed by several other party leaders, including U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, gubernatorial candidate John Carlson, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Dan Evans, and Metropolitan King County Councilwoman Jane Hague. He has been an elections observer for the U.S. State Department in Russia and Uganda.

Reed says he expects to win, based on his resume, his statewide contacts, endorsements, and $150,000 spent on radio and billboard advertising.

But state Rep. Mike Wensman, R-Mercer Island, has the personal wealth to finance an ad blitz, too. Wensman, 49, a retired attorney and businessman who made his fortune as a Nintendo distributor in Europe, is donating $200,000 to his campaign to pay for TV ads, the first time television has been used by a candidate for the office, which pays $78,177 a year.

Elected caucus chairman within two years of arriving at the Legislature, he notes his work on the House committee that deals with elections and says his trade background would be a huge benefit to the state. He proposes to visit each of the state's 317 high schools to promote civics.

Political newcomers William Baker of Tacoma and James Findley of Wilkeson also are seeking the GOP nomination.

Five Democrats are seeking the party nomination.

Former state Democratic Party Chairman Charles Rolland is making his first bid for statewide office. Also running are former U.S. Rep. Don Bonker and Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger.

Bonker, 63, figures his resume should be enough to garner the nomination. He served as Clark County auditor decades ago, ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 1972 and went on to represent Southwest Washington in Congress for 14 years.

In 1988, he left his safe seat to unsuccessfully seek the Senate nomination. He lost a Senate primary again in 1992 against Patty Murray.

After leaving Congress, Bonker became one of the country's top trade experts, with offices in Seattle and Washington, D.C. He lists election-related issues, including overhaul of the primary system, as his priority but says his trade credentials would be a bonus.

Like Reed and some other candidates, Terwilliger says that Bonker's strong suit, trade, isn't the main purpose of the Secretary of State's Office, and that it has been a quarter of a century since Bonker ran elections in Clark County.

Terwilliger, 52, has been a county auditor since 1993 and was the chief deputy for a decade before that. Previously, he was a deputy prosecutor and an attorney in private practice.

He says he would focus on elections and public records. Like most of the candidates, he has a program to boost voter participation among those under age 30.

Rolland, 49, is a former research scientist in the Tri-Cities. He managed Jesse Jackson's state campaign in 1988 and Norm Rice's successful bid for Seattle mayor. He later joined Rice's staff.

He was state Democratic Party chairman for two years, and was ousted after the GOP landslide of 1994. Since then, he has worked in economic development.

"I know politics - I was born to organize and get people involved," he says.

Other Democratic contenders are Allen Norman of Seattle, owner of a legal-search consulting firm, and newcomer Rand Daley of Olympia.

Chris Loftis of Eatonville is running under the Reform Party banner, and J. Bradley Gibson of Seattle is a Libertarian Party nominee.

Loftis, on leave as executive director of United Way in Thurston County, has made the bigger splash - literally. He has been on a combination kayaking-walking tour from Vancouver, Wash., to the Canadian border to call attention to his candidacy.

"Let's face it, the odds against me are pretty high," he says. "I'm not a Democrat, a Republican, a billionaire or even a professional wrestler. These are discouraging times when it comes to the average person's trust and respect for our government.

"But I believe there are a lot of folks out there who want to see real people with real ideas and ability in politics."

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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