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Jennifer Dunn, 66; in a career of firsts, rose to a key post in House's GOP leadership

September 06, 2007|From the Associated Press

Former Rep. Jennifer Dunn, who became the most powerful Republican woman in Washington state history during six terms representing Seattle's east-side suburbs in Congress, died in her Virginia apartment Wednesday after developing a blood clot, her family said in a statement. She was 66.

Dunn, a favorite of both Bush White Houses, was Washington state's ranking Republican in Congress when she retired in 2004.

She told the Associated Press at the time that she was pursuing a new career as a policy advisor and planned to enjoy time with her new husband and baby granddaughter.

Dunn was known for her work on tax issues, promoting women-owned businesses and sponsoring the Amber Alert bill for locating missing children.

Former Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) said he was shocked at Dunn's death. He told KOMO Radio in Seattle, "She was a major part of my life, as she was a major part of the political life of the state of Washington."

Beyond breaking the glass ceiling for Republican women in the House, Gorton called Dunn a great personality -- "outgoing and friendly and concerned."

Her political career was a series of firsts: first woman to chair the Washington State Republican Party; first freshman woman to win a place in the House Republican leadership team; and the highest-ranking woman in the GOP leadership as the vice chair of the House Republican Conference.

She served as a member of the Ways and Means Committee, vice chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee and member of the conference's campaign team.

She was a frequent spokeswoman for the House, once giving the Republican response to a State of the Union address by President Clinton. She helped run three Republican national conventions.

Although she never endorsed term limits, Dunn said on retiring that she believed the nation "is better served if from time to time we senior members step aside to allow individuals with fresh ideas to challenge the status quo in Congress."

Born Jennifer Blackburn in Seattle on July 29, 1941, she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Stanford University in 1963.

She is survived by her husband, Keith Thomson; sons Bryant Dunn and Reagan Dunn from her first marriage; a stepson, Angus Thomson; and two grandchildren.

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