Former congresswoman Dunn latest Legacy Project subject

Washington State Secretary of State Sam Reed has announced the late congresswoman Jennifer Dunn is the most recent Washingtonian to be spotlighted by “The Legacy Project,” the oral history program created in 2008 by the Legislature.

The Dunn project includes a biography, facts at-a-glance, and scrapbook photographs available online at . The project was written by Trova Heffernan, based on numerous interviews from family and colleagues, press accounts and Dunn interviews, and other archival materials. It is the first posthumous biography published as part of The Legacy Project.

“It is my great pleasure to honor the amazing Jennifer Dunn with a biography that tells her inspiring story as a political trailblazer in both Washingtons,” said Reed. “She used her position to advance the idea that politics and government are a noble calling, and that civility and collaboration can achieve much more than negativism and partisan gridlock. Her story will serve as a great example for girls and women who aspire to public service. She was a class act, and a genuine friend to many.”

Jennifer Jill Blackburn, a distant cousin of Sen. Slade Gorton, was born in Seattle in 1941 to Jack Blackburn, a Canadian immigrant, and Helen Gorton. She had a younger brother, John. After graduating from Bellevue public schools, she graduated from Stanford and worked for IBM and participated in grassroots politics. She married Dennis Dunn, a Harvard graduate, in 1965, and they had two sons, Reagan, named for Jennifer Dunn’s political hero, Ronald Reagan, and Bryant. The Dunns divorced in 1979, and Jennifer Dunn was a single mother while rearing their sons. She worked for Reagan’s losing battle for the GOP presidential nomination in 1976, and other campaigns, eventually becoming state Republican chairwoman, serving for more than a decade.

In 1992, the year of a Democratic landslide, she was elected congresswoman from the 8th District, the only Republican member of the House delegation in 1993 and 1994. She served until 2005, rising to vice chair of the majority conference, at the time the highest rank held by a woman in the House. She was a frequent spokeswoman for the party, delivering the GOP response to the State of the Union Address in 1999. She co-chaired the Iraqi women’s caucus in Congress, expanded the AMBER Alert program, and battled the federal estate tax.

She retired from Congress and joined the public policy section of a major law firm. She died in November 2004 of a blood clot in her lung. She was 66.

Eight oral histories also have been published as part of the recently launched project. Subjects have included former First Lady Nancy Bell Evans, astronaut Bonnie J. Dunbar, Bremerton civil rights pioneer Lillian Walker, and Krist Novoselic, the Nirvana rocker who became a civic activist. The story of former Governor Booth Gardner, Senator Gorton, and other oral histories are in preparation.

The Legacy Project is a partner in the Washington State Heritage Center that is planned for the Capitol Campus and, online, statewide. All stories can be found at .

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For earlier Tacoma Daily Index coverage of The Legacy Project, click on the following links:

Washington State Legacy project features Former first lady Evans (10/07/09) —

Justice Utter joins Legacy Project catalogue (05/11/09) —

Washington State Legacy Project honors first female Supreme Court Justice (03/25/09) —

Rocker, reporter and jurist help launch Washington State Heritage Center Legacy Project (02/19/09) —

Veteran journalist will lead state’s Legacy Project (08/11/08) —