Press Talk: Bad company till the day we die?

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Don Benton must go.

No, not go to another free meal some lobbyist is buying. Not to the dry cleaner to pick up his shirts washed and pressed courtesy of the taxpayers. And not to his second taxpayer-funded job as the $100,000 county environmental services director, for which he is totally unqualified.

No, Benton must go. As in "see ya!"

Of course, we're talking about state Sen. Don Benton, who is also — as noted — the guy his commissioner buddies sneaked into this sweet county environmental job.

In Tuesday's Columbian, we reported on an investigation conducted by legislative officials involving Benton and state Sen. Ann Rivers. Both senators are Republicans, so this isn't your typical party vs. party dustup. To be fair, the investigators' conclusions put some of the blame on Rivers as well.

But anyone who knows Benton knows this mess has his fingerprints all over it.

The irony is it began when Benton filed a complaint against Rivers, the very popular, rising conservative star from our area. I like her.

Benton's complaint essentially said Rivers wasn't nice to him and even swore at him.

Well, OK.

After Benton foolishly asked for this investigation, Rivers essentially took command of the situation and won the battle. Admittedly, that's not a difficult thing to do when you're dealing with this guy. In the end, Rivers would not put up with being bullied by Benton. So, rightly, she fought back.

The investigation report — in part — quoted Rivers as saying Benton had a tendency to "blow up emotionally when faced with adversity." Rivers said she had been on the wrong end of a "tongue lashing that included yelling, profanity and character-impugning comments such as 'You are a xxxxxxx liar.'"

The investigators, after hearing from many people on this, concluded Benton "used unprofessional and highly disrespectful language intended to interfere with (Rivers') work performance."

Who would have guessed, right?

But when a guy like Benton tells Rivers that she's acting like a "trashy, trampy-mouthed little girl," just how do you keep him around?

As a state senator, there's really not much you can do about bouncing Benton now. Those who voted for him in 2012 have to live with their decision. Of course, the honorable thing for him to do would be to resign. I emailed Benton and asked him if would resign. Ah, no response.

So I wouldn't count on it.

I also asked Rivers a few things, including if she'd ever vote for Benton in the future. Remember, they're both Republicans.

"Mostly I want to put this whole ... thing behind me. You know that's all I got for ya."

With Benton's county job, residents wouldn't have to wait for a vote. He could just get booted. His buddies, the M&M boys (Republican county commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke), sneaked him in the back door for better or for worse. Mostly for worse. That should have never happened. Still, maybe they could see the light and reconsider that initial mistake. Maybe they could finally buck up, admit they were wrong and give county residents a break.

But don't count on this either.

After our story broke, I did ask Madore — the mastermind behind the Benton county hire — if he still strongly supported Benton. Remember, it was Madore who force-fed us a bazillion-page Integrity Resolution that's now on the books. Just how do Benton's actions fit into integrity, I wondered.

"Mr. Benton is doing a great job leading (the Department of Environmental Services)," Madore said. Madore added he would continue to support him.

So I suspect we're in for several years of this. Or more. I've found that Clark County residents are pretty dang tough, though. We'll survive the likes of Benton and the M&M boys. But the real question is, why should we have to?

Bad company till the day we die? Bad company till the day we die.