Dunlap, Ronald W. (b. 1937)

  • By Frank Chesley
  • Posted 9/26/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7919
Ron Dunlap served three terms as a Washington State Representative and 10 months as King County Executive, appointed to fill the term of the county’s first Executive, John D. Spellman (b. 1926), who was elected governor of Washington state in 1980. Dunlap also ran unsuccessfully for the 7th Congressional District seat held by Representative Mike Lowry. He called himself a “fiscal conservative,” also brought with him a strong Christian faith, and considered his tenure as King County Executive as “the greatest job in politics.” He mounted a campaign to retain the office, but was defeated in the November 1981 general election by Seattle City Councilman Randy Revelle by a narrow margin. Dunlap became a successful stockbroker and retired in 2006. His first wife, Allison, died in 2002, and Ron and his second wife, Barbara, divide their time between homes in Port Ludlow, Washington, and Carmel, California.

Midwest in the Marrow

Ron Dunlap was born on October 31, 1937, in South Bend, Indiana, to Claude and Thelma Sanner Dunlap. Claude Dunlap, one of 11 children, was a building contractor who built custom homes. Ron’s brother, Spencer, spent most of his career in Peoria, Illinois, with AT&T.

Ron attended South Bend’s James Whitcomb Riley High School, graduating in 1955. He was active in drama and choral groups throughout high school, experiences that left him with mellifluous articulation and an ease with discourse. He also was a member of the Latin, science, and math clubs.

Ron attended Purdue University, graduating in 1959 with a degree in Engineering Sciences, the first class with such a degree, and earned a master’s degree in the same field in 1961. But he had become fascinated with the field of quantitative economics while working on his master’s and entered Harvard University to work on a doctorate in economics. But when a recruiter from The Boeing Company made his pitch, Ron's interest in private enterprise and airplanes led him west. “The World's Fair was in full swing, Seattle was bustling, and I fell in love with the Northwest.”

So Dunlap loaded his possessions, apparently minimal, in his shiny red little 1959 Austin-Healey Sprite and accepted Boeing’s offer to “come West young man” (Dunlap). He worked first as a financial analyst in research and development, then on the preliminary design team for the 747, and later on the Minuteman missile program, and finally in airplane sales.

The Global Good Life

In 1965, he met Allison Dale through a friend at Boeing, and they married in 1967. Allison, a native of Lake Oswego, Oregon, who came to Seattle in the early 1960s, worked in the airline industry, with liberal ticket privileges, and the couple enjoyed them all, from a honeymoon on Tahiti to spur-of-the-moment flights to Europe. “We did a lot of traveling in our early married life,” Dunlap recalled. “It was the early days of jet travel, when you put on a suit and tie to fly.”

Two children would be born to the Dunlaps: Marcia in 1970 and Lynne Marie in 1972.

It was during Dunlap’s job on the Minuteman program, in 1973, that he experienced “a defining moment,” politically speaking. “I was grousing about the state of affairs and Richard Nixon, and this fellow, Dave Heffernan, said, ‘What are you doing about it?’”

Dunlap promptly picked up the phone and dialed King County Republican headquarters, to volunteer. A year later, in 1974, he won a seat as State Representative from the 41st District (Bellevue, Mercer Island, and Renton) and would serve three terms. In 1976, he was a Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) delegate at the Republican state convention and, when Reagan failed to win the delegation, he became King County Chairman of the Committee to Re-Elect Gerald Ford (1913-2006).

Dunlap was a self-described “fiscal conservative.” He had met and been impressed with Milton Friedman (b. 1912), a 1976 Nobel prize winner in economics and best-known proponent of free-market economics. He also “became good friends” with Lewis Uhler (b. 1933) of Roseville, California, president of the National Tax Limitation Committee. He said, “I became convinced that an external control on spending was really the only way to rein in government.” 

Anti-Tax Crusade Success

In 1978, Dunlap joined with another anti-tax crusader, state Senator Ellen Craswell (1932-2008), R-Bremerton, to co-author Initiative 62, a measure limiting state spending to the growth of its taxpayers’ personal incomes. It was part of the fallout from California’s Proposition 13, the linchpin of the late-1970s so-called taxpayer revolt. Initiative 62 passed and Dunlap considered it his “most significant” political achievement.

Another was the controversial construction of I-90. Dunlap was a member of the House Transportation and Utilities Committee “and became a real link between the district, state, and federal government to do whatever I could to get that project up. People today maybe can’t imagine living without I-90, viewing a choke point between Seattle and Bellevue as a desirable thing.” Dunlap admitted, however, that “eight lanes of concrete bisecting Mercer Island ... probably was not in the best interests of Mercer Island.”

The Dunlaps and Craswells -- Ellen and her husband, Bruce -- shared not only a tight-fisted public fiscal philosophy, but a conservative Christian view as well, and a kinship developed that would manifest itself later in Dunlap’s career.

Reporter Mark Matassa wrote in The Seattle Times: “While Craswell and Dunlap campaigned around the state for their initiative, Bruce and Dunlap's wife, Allison, traveling with them, killed time discussing the Bible. Bruce loves a good-natured argument -- ‘If it's Advil vs. Anacin,' Allison Dunlap says, 'he'll take you to the mat’ -- and he was sure he could prove the Bible was not absolute divine truth, as Allison had accepted it to be. But after several weeks of debate, Allison recalls, Bruce was astonished to see he hadn't shaken her faith. Intrigued, the Craswells agreed to join the Dunlaps and several other couples in a more thorough Bible study” (Matassa).

A Run for Congress

In 1980 Dunlap challenged Representative Mike Lowry (b. 1939) for his seat representing the strongly Democratic 7th Congressional District. Lowry won, 112,848 votes to 82,218, 57.26 percent to 42.74 percent. “It was a good campaign,” Dunlap said. “I have a lot of respect for Mike Lowry ... He truly believed that the answer to a whole lot of problems was more government, which I didn’t. We had some great debates.”

When King County Executive John Spellman was elected governor, the King County Republican Central Committee offered three names to be considered as Spellman’s replacement -- state Senator Kent Pullen (1943-2003), King County Assessor Harley Hoppe, and Dunlap. All represented the conservative wing of the party, with Dunlap the Committee’s first choice.

Questions were raised at Dunlap’s confirmation hearings about his relationship with former King County Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll (1906-2003), onetime Republican power who was indicted by a grand jury and driven from office during the 1970s police corruption scandal. State Representative Dick King, an Everett Democrat and House minority leader in 1981, said Dunlap was “far too extreme a conservative to run a large urban county in the modern era” (Coughlin). Democrat County Councilman Gary Grant groused about his management experience, but Dunlap easily won confirmation with a 7-2 vote of the Republican-controlled council. He was sworn in as King County’s second Executive on January 14, 1981. As his deputy, he chose his old friend from Olympia days, Bruce Craswell, 49, former dentist and property developer.

The Jail and the Mariners

Dunlap faced several issues, topped by an overcrowded jail. His first test, coming almost immediately after he was sworn in, was choosing a temporary replacement for retiring King County Sheriff Lawrence G. Waldt, until a new sheriff could be elected. Some members of the King County Council, “Paul Barden primarily,” lobbied vociferously for Clayton Bean, 54, a retired Seattle police officer and fellow member with Barden in the Fellowship of Christian Police Officers. Dunlap, however, chose Waldt’s administrative assistant and first choice, Bernard “Barney” Winckoski, 59. Dunlap later said, “I was very satisfied with Barney Winckoski, a prince of a guy. He did an excellent job.”

The jail “was a constant source of frustration. ... A lot of energy went into the jail. We cleaned it up, put the prisoners to work, launched the Jailhouse Bread Project ... which was pretty successful,” Dunlap said. But he had to fire one corrections manager, hired a replacement with his own set of baggage -- suspended briefly for macing prisoners -- and “impossible conditions” at the jail dominated the headlines. Only a few days after Dunlap was sworn in, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s lead editorial opined: “Jail Syndrome Strikes Again.”  But Dunlap said he left office with the county jail certified as being in complete compliance with state jail standards.

Another top issue was restive George Argyros, Southern California real estate tycoon and Seattle Mariners owner. Other King County Executives may have had trouble with Argyros and his quest for a more beneficial Kingdome lease, but Dunlap said, “I had a very positive relationship with him. ... He was from Orange County ...  a conservative bastion,” he agreed. As for why other county officials had difficulty with Argyros, Dunlap said, “People get hung up on the smallest of things. You could almost characterize them as personality quirks.” Still, Argyros remained a problem for the county after Dunlap left office.

Dunlap considered his tenure as King County Executive as  “the greatest job in politics. It is a large enough pool that you really could make a difference. There was enough budget, enough people, the whole system was close enough to the people.” He was proud of the county’s implementation of the e911 emergency system, considering it one of his most significant achievements.

Campaign for Full-time Job

Dunlap had been in office only five months when he announced plans to seek a full four-year term as County Executive and signed on some conservative muscle to oversee his campaign. Chairman of The Ron Dunlap Executive Committee was John M. Fluke Sr., Mountlake Terrace industrialist and outspoken free-enterprise advocate.

Dunlap raised more campaign funds than the two Democratic Party candidates combined -- $160,626 by an August 26 public-disclosure-filing deadline. About one-third came from real-estate and development interests that wanted fewer controls and land-use regulations, while there “was virtually none” for the two Democrats, Randy Revelle and Robert Anderson (Hadley). Revelle, a three-term Seattle City Councilman, defeated former Everett Mayor Anderson in the Democratic primary, to face Dunlap in the general election.

Dunlap's polls and other indicators showed him comfortably ahead of Revelle, about 60 to 40 percent. But Revelle came from behind to win by a slim 1.4 percent margin, 153,482 votes to 149,209. Dunlap blamed the loss on “a pretty classic problem -- overconfidence. There were precincts in Medina that voted 90 percent Republican, but there were precincts in my case where only four or five people voted. He also said the heavy vote (58 percent) in favor of Initiative 394, “‘cocked’ the election” (Bailey). (Initiative 394, a reaction to the Washington Public Power Supply System [WPPSS] nuclear-plant disaster, required a public vote for all new major energy-plant projects, and it passed.)

 “Coming out of a background in nuclear engineering at Purdue, I made no secret of my support of nuclear energy. ... The thing has become so emotionally charged, it’s no longer possible to do it.”

At the time, he had cited a couple of other problems as well: his veto of a county ordinance giving a 5 percent economic advantage to minority and women’s firms doing business with the county, and cutting the Art Commission’s budget from $480,000 to $133,600. “The issue over the fine-arts budget also hurt” (Bailey).

Since Dunlap had been appointed rather than elected, his term ended with Revelle’s election and Revelle took office on November 18. The defeat was painful and “the expectations [of winning easily] compounded the hurt.” 

Life After Politics

Dunlap considered seeking another elective office and “job opportunities” with the Reagan administration (Bailey), but accepted an offer from Evans Llewellyn Securities in Bellevue. He soon became a member of the board of directors, and then president. However, the owners, Andy Evans and Ann Llewellyn, had been manipulating the books, and Dunlap resigned. Evans and Llewellyn later served prison terms on bank-fraud charges. Dunlap then became resident manager for Dain Bosworth, which became RCB Dain Rauscher, and later joined Paine Webber, which became part of the international banking firm, UBS. He retired in July 2006.

Dunlap “still writes checks,” but is no longer actively involved in politics. In 1983, however, he served on a temporary congressional redistricting panel created after a federal court rejected a 1982 redistricting plan that had been born in a “political quagmire” (Modie). Of his public life, he said, “Politics, more than anything I’ve ever done, has a way of capturing your soul. It just gets in your bones. ... At the time, it was thoroughly engaging. If you’re doing something that you think can make a difference, it has a way of grabbing you.” 

Of his Christian faith, he said. "I consider my faith to be a source of great strength."

Allison Dunlap died of cancer in 2002, “the end of a 35-year, wonderful marriage.”

Ron later married Barbara Hermsen. Both he and Barbara are Harley-Davidson enthusiasts and in 2004 toured to the four corners of the country -- “Maine, Key West (Florida), San Ysidro, California, and back – a 14,000-mile ride, 67 days on the road.” They now divide their time between homes in Port Ludlow, Washington, and Carmel, California. The Dunlaps are both licensed pilots and share the controls of their 2006 Beech Bonanza.


Sources: Gil Bailey, “Ron Dunlap May Take a Job on Reagan Team,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 12, 1981; Mark Matassa, “Craswell’s Crusade -- This Long-Shot Candidate Dares To Mix Religion and Politics,” The Seattle Times, February 5, 1995, website accessed August 22, 2006 (www.seattletimes.nwsource.com); Dan Coughlin, “Which Dunlap Will It Be?,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 4, 1981, p. A-6; “Jail Syndrome Strikes Again,” Ibid., January 22, 1981, p. B-2; Jane Hadley, “Developers back Dunlap,” Ibid., September 3, 1981, p. A-1; Neil Modie, “Redistricting Plan Signed -- Spellman Backs Commission,” Ibid., March 30, 1983.

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