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Sunday, October 22, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Munro's successor will handle overhaul of state's primaries

Seattle Times staff reporter

There will be no easing into the job for the winner in the secretary-of-state race.

That person must be prepared to create a new primary-election system by a March 31 deadline. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that open primaries like Washington's are unconstitutional.

So far, there's little difference between the two front-runners - veteran politicians Sam Reed and Don Bonker - on how they would tackle this problem. Both embrace the same ideas; neither is promising a magic solution.

The real contrast between them is in how they would approach the job's other duties.

Reed, a Republican who has run elections in Thurston County as county auditor for 20 years, said his strengths lie in the very heart of the secretary of state's job: elections.

Democrat Bonker, a former congressman from Southwest Washington who has made trade the central issue of his political career, said he would look for ways to expand markets for the state's businesses. That isn't a constitutional obligation for the position, but incumbent Ralph Munro made trade missions an unofficial part of the job.

Two other candidates, both political novices, also will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Reform Party candidate Chris Loftis is running on the platform of campaign-finance reform. And Libertarian J. Bradley Gibson said he's running to save taxpayers money.

The winner will replace Munro, a Republican, who is retiring from his post after five terms.

It will be risky to scrap the state's 65-year-old system of primary elections. Munro said that if the next secretary of state doesn't implement a system voters like, he might not get re-elected.

But change must happen.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that blanket primaries like Washington's are unconstitutional because they don't let the major parties choose their own candidates. Blanket primaries do not require voters to declare party affiliation, so voters may choose candidates from different parties on the same ballot.

U.S. District Judge Jack Tanner later approved a deal between Washington state's lawyers and the political parties that the state would design a new primary system by March 31 of next year.

Bonker and Reed agree that the new system must give Democrats and Republicans more control over picking their nominees. But in a state in which voters relish political independence, they also agree it's vital the new primary system allow voters to cross party lines.

"We ought to continue to have that freedom of choice," Bonker said.

Because there aren't many ways to do both, the two candidates are finding little room to bicker on this issue. They support some of the same alternatives on a list that Munro has created.

They agree, for example, that one feasible alternative is Louisiana's system. There, the top two vote-getters in each race in the primary advance to the general election, even if both are from the same party.

They disagree on other options. Bonker favors a proposal on Munro's list to let parties approve candidates who want to represent them on the primary ballot. That would give the parties more say in determining their nominees.

But Reed, a Republican who says he doesn't always agree with his party, worries that parties would choose only candidates who toed the party line.

The secretary of state would have to persuade the Legislature to enact whatever new primary system he proposed.

The candidates differ more dramatically on what they think the main focus of the office should be.

Reed, who served as assistant secretary of state under Gov. Dan Evans and who has been active in the Mainstream Republicans of Washington, an organization that supports abortion rights, said his first priority would be to enact election improvements he has made as Thurston County auditor.

Under Munro's stewardship, Washington became the first state to make polling places accessible to the disabled and one of the first to register voters when they get their drivers' licenses and to allow people to vote by mail.

Reed said he would implement statewide a program he created in Thurston County called Voting Is Cool, which would take him into schools to tell kids how the democratic process works.

He also would expand his Thurston County awards program for senior citizens who voted for 50 or more consecutive years. And he would study the feasibility of letting people vote over the Internet, though he's not sure the state is ready for online voting.

Another of his goals would be to put an index to state archives on the Web so people could easily find public records.

Bonker, who became interested in trade when he represented Southwest Washington's 3rd congressional district from 1975 to 1989, said his greatest strength would be in helping the state expand commerce with other countries.

In 1996, he wrote a book called "America's Trade Crisis."

After he left office, he went to work at a Washington, D.C., law firm that specialized in trade-related cases. He now is president of a trade consulting firm called APCO Worldwide and maintains a home in Arlington, Va.

Bonker said his work in the District of Columbia has made him well suited to step into Munro's shoes as a trade ambassador. "The U.S. has a number of programs to help exporters," he said. "I could help Washington businesses have access to those programs."

But Bonker, who was Clark County auditor in the 1970s, said he's also no stranger to the task of running elections. He said he was the first in the state to implement punch-card voting. He also supports online voting but would introduce it on a county-by-county basis.

So far, Reed is outpacing the other candidates in money and newspaper endorsements. He has raised $205,000, four times as much as Bonker. His major contributors include the state Republican Party, former King County prosecutor Chris Bayley and the Washington Association of Realtors.

Bonker has raised about $57,000 from the state Democratic Central Committee, the Washington Machinists Council and the Western Washington Trial Lawyers Association, among others.

Loftis, the Reform Party candidate, who is director of United Way of Thurston County, said he would try to enact a law that would prohibit corporations, political-action committees and organizations from contributing to campaigns. Only individuals registered to vote would be allowed to contribute.

Loftis said he would make sure the new primary system would give third-party candidates a shot at getting on the general-election ballot. Under current election law, a third-party candidate must get 1 percent of the primary vote to advance to the general.

If voters couldn't cross party lines as they do now, Loftis doubts candidates like him could reach that threshold.

As of last week, Loftis had collected $25,000 - $1,000 of it from the Reform Party of Washington and $1,000 from the Citizen Action Fund in Olympia.

Gibson did not return phone calls. In his voters-guide statement, he said he doesn't care if the parties hold closed primaries, so long as the public doesn't have to pay for them.

Gibson has raised $759, all from the Libertarian Party of Washington State.

Catherine Tarpley's phone message number is 206-464-3198. Her e-mail address is ctarpley@seattletimes.com.

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Don Bonker

Democrat

Age: 63

Residence: Bainbridge Island

Occupation: Executive vice president, APCO Worldwide; president, International Management and Development Institute

Education: B.A. in public administration, Lewis and Clark College

Political history: Former U.S. representative

Endorsements: District Lodge 751, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; King County Democrats

Campaign Web site: www.donbonker.com

Campaign theme: Election-system reform, export-trade promotion.

J. Bradley Gibson

Libertarian

Age: 40

Residence: Seattle

Occupation: Attorney

Education: B.S. in nuclear technology, University of New York; M.B.A., University of Phoenix; J.D., University of Houston

Political history: First campaign

Endorsements: Libertarian Party

Campaign Web site: www.voteliberty.org

Campaign theme: Minimize government's role.

Chris Loftis

Reform

Age: 41

Residence: Eatonville, Pierce County

Occupation: Executive director, United Way of Thurston County

Education: B.S. in zoology and science education, Duke University

Political history: First campaign

Endorsements: No response

Campaign Web site: www.chrisloftis.com

Campaign theme: Independent, nonpartisan leadership.

Sam Reed

Republican

Age: 59

Residence: Olympia

Occupation: Thurston County auditor

Education: B.A., M.A. in political science, Washington State University

Political history: Assistant secretary of state, 1969-75; Thurston County auditor, 1978-present

Endorsements: Washington Association of Realtors, Affordable Housing Council, Washington Public Employees Association

Campaign Web site: www.SamReed2000.org

Campaign theme: A leader with experience.

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

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