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Benton leading trade mission to Cambodia

Senator taking unpaid leave from his county job

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: September 29, 2014, 5:00pm

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, will lead a weeklong trade mission to Cambodia, where he hopes to promote Southwest Washington agriculture and architecture.

“The whole idea is to strengthen both trade and governmental ties with another country,” Benton said. “Washington state is the most trade-dependent state in the nation, as you know. The more we strengthen our ties with the Pacific Rim partners, the better.”

Benton said he will take unpaid time off from his position as Clark County’s director of environmental services. He will be acting in his capacity as state senator but said he will spend $2,200 from his own bank account. Some additional costs may be paid by the government of Cambodia, he said, and no state funds will be used for the trip.

“We’re trying to generate more business and more imports and exports for Washington state and efforts like this pay off,” Benton said.

“I think a lot of folks still see Cambodia as a poor, Third World country and they may not realize the prosperity and growth they have had in the last 10 years.”

Benton said about nine other people are planning to travel with him, including one elected county official from the Tri-Cities region.

Michael O’Connell, legal counsel to the state Legislative Ethics Board, said the trip fits the bill for a trade mission. There are meetings set up between Cambodian officials and those with a stake in Washington business.

“There are no words in the law that says what a trade mission has to consist of, so we look at what the purpose of the trip is,” O’Connell said. “This is an economic delegation, there are opportunities in Cambodia and they are using it to connect businesses with Washington state and leaders.”

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, recently joined Lt. Gov. Brad Owen on a trade mission to Taiwan. And Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, went on a trade mission to the People’s Republic of China in November 2012.

Benton said he has meetings set up with the prime minister and the crew will make stops at a rice manufacturing plant and cultural center. Benton said he has known Cambodia’s honorary consul in Seattle, Daravuth Huoth, for several years.

Columbian Political Writer