John Laird: Probst reluctant to discuss nastiness of today's politics

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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Tim Probst told me Friday that he hadn't been interviewed by the media in months. Still, he didn't sound surprised by the call and my curiosity about his views on Don Benton's increased buffoonery since Probst lost to him in last year's race for state senator.

Probst quickly answered: "All I'm going to say is that Ann Rivers is an absolute class act."

This is not the first time Probst and Boss Benton have differed in their views. Benton filed a complaint against Rivers for unprofessional behavior on the floor of the Senate. That is the same arena in which Benton last year approached colleague Cheryl Pflug and, well, as Pflug describes it: "He put his face up against mine and yelled 'F... you! F... you!' "

At the other end of the diplomacy compendium we find the esteemed Mr. Probst, who is clearly uncomfortable talking about the political histrionics that Benton and his county commissioner cronies David Madore and Tom Mielke have created this year.

Probst also wasn't too thrilled when I asked if he felt like the George W. Bush bumper sticker: "Miss me yet?" His life now -- out of the spotlight -- is devoted to enjoying his family and working as director of workforce initiatives for the state Employment Security Department. That job is similar to his work in politics, when he served as one of the pre-eminent authorities and can-do activists in creating jobs.

But in another way, 2013 is the opposite of 2012 for Tim Probst. Last year he took a big gamble running against Benton for the Senate. Life had been good for Probst in the House, and on election night he led Benton by 222 votes. But a month later, Probst had lost by 14 hundredths of a percentage point.

In late December, Probst walked out of the fire and said: "I made my motto: 'Do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may,' and I've lived by that. I encourage all of our elected officials and our citizens to unify around what's best for the state and the nation, and avoid dividing into splinter groups focused on their own self interests."

Benton didn't get the memo. And we can imagine the stark terror that stalks the Environmental Services Department now that Benton is in charge (when he's in town) thanks to Madore and Mielke. Those fine folks wonder when Boss will next unleash his in-your-face vulgarities.

Will Probst run for office again? "The jury is still out," and he didn't sound overly enthused. As I see it, when a man with his record of honorable public service is uncertain if he will seek our votes again, it says something about us as voters. It also says something about the people we elect.

Height of hypocrisy

Meanwhile, back at the circus, if you missed the latest melodrama involving Boss Benton, check out the column in last Wednesday's Columbian written by Peter Callaghan of The News Tribune in Tacoma. Callaghan describes Benton's performance as chairman of the committee that rules on complaints about violations of the Senate's respectful workplace rules: "One of his first acts was to lift all Senate sanctions against another senator, Pam Roach" who had bullied staff members in 2009.

Callaghan presents that story as a contradiction of Benton's recent complaint against Rivers: "So Don Benton demands immediate action against a fellow senator who cursed at him (Rivers) while excusing Roach's more-egregious behavior. He says Rivers should get counseling but lifted demands that Roach do so. He says he's making this an issue to protect Senate staff but did little to protect the victims of Roach's anger. And he wonders why no one is taking him seriously?"

Madore and Mielke insist they rushed Benton's appointment because he is so eminently qualified. Now we know: They rushed to act because Benton, as a leader, is so breathtakingly unqualified.

Elsewhere, beyond all of this nastiness, Probst spends much of his time these days calmly driving around the state, creating jobs. I hope he keeps his mind on the road, and not on the politics that might have been.