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Name: Bowen, Debra
Current Position: Former Secretary of State

Debra Bowen has been elected California’s Secretary of State twice, in 2006 and in 2010.

Originally from Rockford, Illinois, Bowen graduated from the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University in 1976, then went to the University of Virginia where she earned a law degree. Her first job as an attorney was for the Chicago firm Winston and Strawn, where she practiced corporate, tax and ERISA law. She then moved to the firm’s Washington, DC office before joining Hughes, Hubbard and Reed in Los Angeles. In 1984, Bowen opened her own law practice in Los Angeles, expanding her expertise to include environmental and land use cases in addition to tax and business law. She volunteered her professional services to the Heal the Bay Legal Committee.

In 1992, Bowen began the first of three terms in the state Assembly representing the 53rd District in west Los Angeles County, followed by two 4-year terms in the state Senate.

She chaired the Assembly Natural Resource Committee, then the Senate Elections, Reapportionment, and Constitutional Amendments Committee and the Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. Highlights of her work in the Legislature include authoring a law that made legislative information—about bills, voting records, committee analyses and more—available online, the first law of its kind in the world. She also supported election-related laws that increased public audits and ensured paper trails, wrote consumer protection laws that gave citizens the tools to safeguard their online information and protect their social security and credit card numbers.

While in the Legislature, Bowen chaired the National Conference of State Legislatures E-Communications Steering Committee, served on the Conference’s Executive Board, and was the state’s appointee to the Conference’s Task Force on State and Local Taxation of Telecommunications and Electronic Commerce.

In her first year as Secretary of State, Bowen commissioned a complete review of the state’s computerized election systems by a team of independent experts and acted on their findings to increase the security and operational requirements for systems used in state elections. She limited the use of some voting machines and imposed audit and security controls, which won her both praise and criticism.

Although Bowen came into office with a reputation for being tech savvy, she received harsh criticism in 2011 for computer problems that crashed the state’s campaign finance disclosure database for more than two weeks and crippled the system for validating new voter registrations. Work on a new voter registration database has been marred by delays and isn’t expected to be in place before 2015.

When Jane Harmon resigned from Congress in February 2011, Bowen launched an unsuccessful bid for her House seat, finishing third in the Democratic primary.

Bowen is married to Mark Nechodom, who was appointed director of the Department of Conservation by Governor Jerry Brown in December 2011. Nechodom, who had been the senior advisor for environmental markets in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, takes over as director after Brown fired his predecessor, Derek Chernow, and the woman who oversaw drilling operations in California after complaints from the oil industry about the permit process.

The couple has one daughter.


Debra Bowen Biography  (Secretary of State website)


Debra Bowen  (California Manufacturers & Technology)

About Debra Bowen  (Campaign Biography)

Executive Director’s Column (by Bill Beekman, Michigan State University Alumni Association)

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