Wednesday, June 5, 2019
HER STORY: Brett Bonner announced last week he was suspending his campaign for Whatcom County Council after it surfaced he had sexually harassed a woman volunteer last February when he was serving as vice chair of the Whatcom County Republican Party.
Bonner admitted he was “blackout drunk” when he texted the woman repeatedly one night via Facebook Messenger—first asking for a date and then ultimately for sex. Bonner resigned as vice chair, citing “several important personal and family issues that have come up since December,” and entered an alcohol rehabilitation program. Yet he believed it was appropriate to run for public office mere weeks later.
“It’s become a distraction,” Bonner characterized the disclosure in a statement, but acknowledged that he cannot withdraw from the race since the official May 20 deadline to withdraw from the Aug. 6 primary race has passed.
“Concerns have surfaced over the last several days which are distracting from other candidates and the very important issues facing our community. By suspending my campaign, it is my hope that the public can focus on electing the best person to the County Council this fall,” Bonner said in a full statement.
“This is so out of character for me,” Bonner said in an interview with the Bellingham Herald.
Of course, that’s hogwash—as those familiar with Bonner’s semi-famous escapades as a radio personality at KGMI recall. Nor is it credible that Bonner was at comatose incapacitation by alcohol as he rattled off coherent but astonishingly inappropriate texts to a young woman last February.
The woman is Daniella Pentsak, 23, a person of remarkable composure and character who disclosed the texts to media in protest after Bonner, 55, filed for office on May 17.
“On February 23 of this year,” Pentsak related, “this man contacted me on Facebook and sent many predatory messages. I have never communicated with this man online, over the phone nor in person ever in my life”—as the string of texts made clear. Throughout the exchange, Pentsak with remarkable composure made clear that the contact was unwanted and highly disturbing to her.
Pentsak holds a degree in political science at Western Washington University, where she graduated in 2018. She is focusing on a Master’s degree in public policy. Her specific interest, she said, is in creating a safe and welcoming place within political parties for young activists, and particularly young women. She tried to make that interest manifest with involvement with the local Republican Party.
“During this time, he was vice chair at the Whatcom County Republican Party,” Pentsak said. “Naturally, I had concerns and brought this information straight to the chair of the WCRP. Following this, Bonner stepped down from the position out of own volition. I had no desire to go further with this. However, since he has filed to run for the County Council at-large, I believe this has gone too far. I am of a strong conviction that the WCRP will support his candidacy. I can only hope not.
“This man should not be seeking public office, as he is a sexual predator,” she said.
Like Daniella, the Gristle would have wished that Brett retire to a satisfying private life and leave matters there. Unfortunately, his failure to withdraw his candidacy before the deadline makes that wish impossible: His name will remain on the ballot through the primary, and his celebrity likely guarantees he will carry on as one of two names into the general election—even if he doesn’t campaign.
He understood these charges in his very recent past were serious, yet he filed for public office anyway. We wish he could petition to have his name stricken from the ballot—but he can’t.
Moreover, if there was coordination between Bonner and the Whatcom County Republican Party as he considered running for office with the party’s blessing, that coordination reflects poorly on party leadership.
“He apologized and resigned his position with the party, and I thought that was the end of it,” Pentsak explained. “But when he later filed for public office I was very surprised.
“I didn’t think that was appropriate, because—frankly—a man who writes like that to a person he never talked to before, ever, it tells me that he has probably done this before, and that is very concerning,” she said. “For him to run for office is a bad reflection on our local elections.
“My intent,” she said, “is not to ruin this man’s life, but I think there should be some changes that need to happen and perhaps he can serve as an example for that change. We should not turn a blind eye.
“The party leadership has for years stated that they want young people to be involved, and that has not happened—not only because of a lack of outreach, but because of problematic issues like these, particularly for young women,” Pentsak said. “If political parties do want to welcome this participation, they’re going to have to bring some substantial changes.”
The Republicans’ crippling systemic problem was outlined by WCRP Chair Kathy Kershner in a call for a replacement for Bonner as vice chair. “State law requires the vice chair to be male when the chair is female,” Kershner explained, “so we are looking for a strong male vice chair candidate” for the party elections last May. Their bylaws do not permit two women to hold leadership positions.
“My experience with the local party was mostly positive,” Pentsak explained, “ but it seemed that over time the more vocal I became, the more issues I encountered. The structure, and the hierarchy in the party needs to change. My experience did not leave me bitter, but it caused me not to want to be involved any more.”
Hers is a courageous and cautionary story for all movements that seek the support and involvement of a new generation.