Don Bonker, former Southwest Washington congressman from 1975-89, dies at 86


Former Washington 3rd District U.S. Representative Don Bonker died on Tuesday, May 30, at the age of 86.

Bonker represented Southwest Washington from 1975 to 1989 as a Democrat. According to reporting by The Columbian, Bonker was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer last week. 

As his tenure in Congress stretched over the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, in a statement on Thursday, said she admired the role he played to establish the Mount St. Helens National Monument.

Cantwell called Bonker “a forceful and effective advocate for the people, economy and environment of Southwest Washington. I admired Congressman Bonker for taking a leading role on international trade and helping establish the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge.”

She wrote that Washington as a whole is “more prosperous” and its natural areas are better protected thanks to Bonker’s work. 

Current U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, also a 3rd District Democrat, said she exchanged words with Bonker on Monday night and was “honored” to call him a mentor.

“I’m deeply saddened,” Gluesenkamp Perez wrote in a statement. “Don was a champion for Southwest Washington led by his faith and lifelong commitment to serving our communities. … Don was always there to answer my questions, share a word of advice, or even lend my husband a suit to wear to my swearing-in ceremony in D.C.”

Bonker was known as a moderate. He endorsed Carolyn Long, challenger to former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, in 2018. The 1983 Republican Washington Governor Dan Evans served as Bonker’s legislative director, according to past reporting by The Reflector.

Bonker was born in Colorado on March 7, 1937, and later served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He married his wife, Carolyn, in 1971 and the couple has two children, Dawn and Jonathan.