For Sen. Don Benton to file a complaint against Sen. Ann Rivers for cursing at him is the “height of hypocrisy,” Benton’s former Republican colleague Cheryl Pflug said Monday.
The former 5th District senator said Benton, R-Vancouver, got in her face and cursed at her last year, right after Pflug voted in favor of same-sex marriage.
“He came to the front side of my desk and leaned forward,” Pflug said, adding that she was seated at that point. “He put his face up against mine and yelled ‘F... you! F... you!’ And there was a threat after that, something about making sure I didn’t come back.”
Pflug was later told that Benton’s profane comments were so loud that people could hear him up in the Senate’s second-floor gallery, where the public can sit and watch their lawmakers in action. An independent source present at the time has confirmed the account of the incident.
Pflug said she didn’t think to file a complaint against Benton for intimidation or profane language, partly because tensions run high in the Legislature and squabbles do happen. She also said it wasn’t the first time Benton yelled at her.
“He definitely has a temper, and he dishes it out and then doesn’t want to receive it,” Pflug said. She added that Benton later approached her and apologized for the incident.
Last week, Benton went public with a complaint he filed against Rivers, R-La Center. The complaint, given to Senate majority and minority leaders, stated Rivers went on an angry. profanity-laced tirade in April that made him feel demeaned, embarrassed and physically threatened.
Rivers acknowledged that she used profanity toward Benton — calling him a “piece of shit” — on April 19 after a discussion about the Columbia River Crossing escalated. The two senators oppose the CRC project as planned. Rivers said she walked away from Benton but he followed her and refused to leave her alone. He then told her “you are weird” multiple times before Rivers cursed at him, Rivers said.
Last week, Benton said by email that there is “nothing Sen. Rivers can say (that) could justify her profane and uncontrollable behavior demonstrated in the Senate chamber in front of guests and 15-year-old pages.”
The two senators, however, appeared to have settled their differences on Saturday during a precinct committee officer meeting of the Clark County Republican Party. They were photographed hugging, and the Clark County GOP made an official statement that the two made amends.
Rivers later sent Benton an email thanking him for apologizing to her.
It is unknown whether Benton has dropped his complaint against Rivers.
Benton ‘berated’ Pflug
On Monday, a lobbyist who witnessed Benton’s spat with Pflug last year backed up Pflug’s story. “It’s absolutely true,” said the lobbyist, who granted The Columbian an interview on the condition of anonymity. “It was one of the busiest days in the Senate chambers. The galleries were packed. ... He berated her, and he was foul-mouthed about it.”
The lobbyist said Benton used the F-word “as a verb, and as a noun, and an adverb, and an adjective. ... People sort of turned away, the way they normally do when something unpleasant happened.”
The lobbyist also was up in the gallery in April when Benton and Rivers sparred on the Senate floor. The lobbyist didn’t see the exchange but did hear Rivers say “get away from me” to Benton.
Pflug, of Maple Valley, left the Senate last year after taking an appointment with the governor’s office. She said her arguments with Benton often centered on her wanting to take a vote that didn’t line up with the majority of Republicans. She said Benton needs to let lawmakers vote the way they see fit for their districts.
Lawmakers under pressure
While speaking about her altercation with Benton, Pflug said Monday that it’s important to realize the pressure that lawmakers are under and why arguments happen.
“It’s a pressure cooker,” she said, adding that this year’s session looks especially challenging. “They are in overtime. (Republicans) are (in) the majority caucus in the Senate, and they don’t have a budget and pink slips literally are going out today for state employees. … It’s normal that you’re going to have little dust-ups at this point, but the idea of filing a complaint is over the top in this scenario.”
Even so, Pflug said, that doesn’t excuse bad behavior on the Senate floor.
“You don’t get to bully somebody,” she said.
Benton did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.