Sutherland, Bonker, Kreidler leading early

By GENE JOHNSON

Associated Press

SEATTLE – A trio of former Democratic congressmen sought three open statewide offices on today’s ballot, giving their party a slim hope it would sweep all nine executive offices for the first time since the Great Depression.

Mike Lowry, the former congressman and governor, topped the list of political comebacks as he made a bid for one of three vacant statewide posts – lands commissioner. But he was trailing Republican Doug Sutherland in early returns, 52 percent to 43 percent, with 5 percent for Libertarian Steve Layman.

Lowry was recruited by environmentalists willing to overlook the sexual harassment scandal that prompted his 1997 political retirement after one term as governor. Sutherland, the elected Pierce County executive, had strong backing from the timber industry.

The winner will succeed Democrat Jennifer Belcher and serve as head of the Department of Natural Resources, which manages 5.5 million acres of state land.

Don Bonker, a trade expert who spends most of his time in Washington, D.C., also made a return to politics. The former seven-term congressman from southwest Washington was running at 48 percent for secretary of state to Thurston County Auditor Sam Reed’s 46 percent. The post was left open by the retirement of Republican Ralph Munro.

The winner will have the immediate task of revamping Washington’s “blanket primary” system, which allowed voters to vote for candidates from any party. The parties, armed with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, are demanding a change next year.

The vacant insurance commissioner post drew optometrist Mike Kreidler, a former congressman and state legislator from Olympia, back to politics. He quit a plum federal health post to launch his first bid for statewide office and was opposed by former Bellevue Mayor Don Davidson, a dentist.

Kreidler led 53 percent to 43 percent in early returns. Libertarian Mike Hihn polled at 3 percent.

The winner faces the difficult task of rebuilding Washington’s ailing health insurance market.

Elsewhere, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a former state senator from Shelton, won a second term with 57 percent of the vote to 37 percent in early returns for Republican challenger Mike Elliott of Rainier. Libertarian Ruth Bennett of Seattle had 6 percent.

Democratic Brian Sonntag won a third term as state auditor. He was leading Republican Dick McEntee, a financial planner who was a late entry to the race, 58 percent to 37 percent. Libertarian Chris Caputo of Seattle was polling 5 percent.

Two other Democrats were seeking re-election to statewide offices.

Attorney General Christine Gregoire, seeking her third term, was a strong favorite over Republican Richard Pope of Shoreline and was leading 56 percent to 40 percent. It was Pope’s second campaign against Gregoire. Three longshot candidates from minor parties were also on the ballot.

Gregoire said voters were willing to forgive her office for missing a deadline to appeal an $18 million verdict against the state.

“What I heard the voters say is, ‘You took this disciplinary action, had an investigation. … You took steps to make sure it didn’t happen again,’ ” Gregoire said.

Treasurer Mike Murphy, seeking a second term, was opposed by Republican Diane Rhoades, a certified public accountant from Orting, and Libertarian Tim Perman of Redmond. Murphy was leading with 57 percent to Rhoades’ 39 percent and Perman’s 4 percent.

A fifth incumbent on the ballot, state Schools Superintendent Terry Bergeson, was unopposed in today’s election after defeating four challengers in the nonpartisan September primary.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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