Benton blasts House Republicans over vote

By Eric Florip, Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter



An email from state Sen. Don Benton scolding fellow Republicans for their votes on a Democratic-led bill sparked an internal brouhaha among legislators this week.

Benton took 14 House Republicans to task for voting in favor of a bill that would create new rules for signature gatherers under the state’s initiative process. House Bill 2552, which cleared the House last week, would require paid signature gatherers to register with the state and complete a training program before collecting signatures, among other requirements.

Benton said he was “deeply disturbed” by the Republicans’ yes votes on the bill. Among those in his sights: Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

“I did my due diligence and checked and confirmed that you did, in fact, vote for HB 2552, and I was completely surprised to see your name on the list,” wrote Benton, R-Vancouver. “Republicans in the Legislature have diligently defended the initiative process from legislative assault by Democrats going back as far as 2003.”

The email went on:

“HB 2552 is one of the most oppressive Big Government anti-initiative bills they’ve ever tried. And you voted for it! Even the ACLU opposes it. Remember the words of the First Amendment: ‘Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech … and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.'”

Reached by phone, Vick said Benton is free to react to the vote any way he sees fit.

“I would have handled it in a different way,” Vick said.

As for the bill itself, Vick said it’s a way to create better openness around the people and businesses that are paid to gather signatures — a process that means handling sensitive information.

“To me, this is a bill about transparency in the election process,” Vick said.

Benton’s blast received at least one written response in the form of a sarcastic email from Rep. Joel Kretz, the House Republicans’ deputy leader. Kretz began by informing Benton, a “fine gentleman,” that “someone may have hacked your online account and sent the below-attached message from your email address!”

Kretz then listed a series of Democratic proposals that Benton has supported over the years.

“We all know the high ethical standard to which you hold yourself, so there is no way I can believe that you — who has so often crossed his own caucus and voted for Democratic bills for what some uncharitable observers might say were self-serving reasons — would be so shameless as to try and take to task fellow elected officials whom you judge ‘guilty’ of the same party-crossing conduct for which you are so rightly famous,” wrote Kretz, R-Wauconda.

Benton responded:

“While I appreciate all of the extra time you have taken to research my 20 year voting record (although some of it is inaccurate), I fail to see the point. I am passionate about the initiative process and my brief email rant about the history of Republicans protecting it had but one point — it makes it more difficult for the (Senate Majority Coalition Caucus) to stop bad D bills like (2552) when it comes over with a strong bipartisan vote count from your chamber. I never intended to accuse or chastise any member’s vote, that is each and every member’s right!”

Benton went on to apologize to “any of your members that were offended by my email.”

“Remember,” he wrote, “we are all on the same team!”

Supporters of the petition bill include the Washington Food Industry Association, which has cited problems from too many petitioners or events being held on businesses’ private property without permission. Grocery stores have also claimed problems with aggressive signature gatherers. And other supporters point to a rise in “irregular” petitions in recent years.

Opponents see the proposal as a deterrent to the initiative process, creating too many undue burdens on citizens gathering signatures.

HB 2552 passed the House by a 71-26 vote. It still awaits consideration in the Senate.

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