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Press Talk: Benton is fading fast

By , Columbian Editor
Published: December 19, 2015, 6:05am

With just a few days to go before Christmas, you-know-who is finalizing his naughty-or-nice list. And, frankly, I’m concerned my good buddy Don Benton will not be happy with the results.

You see, I have Santa’s ear, and the only way I stay on his nice list is by being honest.


That puts Benton in full-blown scramble mode. He sees his two sweet taxpayer-funded jobs slipping away.

When we last left Benton, he had that O.J. Simpson smile. You know, the “I can’t believe I’m getting away with this stuff” grin.

And why not, right?

He’s got that $115,000-a-year county director of environmental services job that he isn’t qualified for. Plus, he’s been a state senator for almost 20 years, doing very little and barely winning his last couple of elections.

That county job

As you likely recall, a couple of years ago Benton was sneaked into that county job through the back door. His crony buddies, Councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke, took care of him.

That was then. Now?

Two new members are being added to the council — and they ain’t crazy about Boss Hogg.

Since Benton began drawing that county paycheck, he has fostered the perception that government jobs aren’t there because they’re needed; they’re there to pay back friends.

But with the M&M boys in the minority, the county council can right the ship.

What the county should do is force Benton into a leave of absence when he’s up in Olympia doing Senate work. That — by the way — was how his county job was originally set up.

Benton won’t like it, of course. Not only will it reduce his take-home pay, it will support the notion that the county can get along without his position.

Now, a conservative like Benton normally would be very much in favor of reducing the government payroll. But he has a slightly different take on this … when cutting his job accomplishes that payroll reduction.

Will the new council have the chops to do it and save the taxpayers’ money? We’ll see. If they don’t, they will be just as culpable as the M&M boys.

And that Senate job?

But his county job isn’t the only one in jeopardy.

Several weeks ago, I had an opportunity to ask state Republican Chair Susan Hutchison about Benton’s poll numbers.

Parties keep tabs on how well the elected types are doing. That’s important, because party backing is determined by those numbers.

And Benton’s numbers have tanked.

Hey, don’t take my word for it. Listen to Hutchison:

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to Don, but I have seen some poll numbers,” she said.

“How did they look?” I asked.

“They didn’t look very good,” she said.

Oh my!

The ad campaign

Some of you might have seen a short TV ad campaign starring Benton a few weeks ago. With Benton’s re-election bid still a year away, it simply didn’t make any sense.

So what was really going on?

Remember those bad polling numbers I just mentioned? Well, another poll was being conducted at — what a coincidence! — the very same time Benton was running those TV ads.

He was trying to move his dismal numbers up to show his party he would be a good person to support.

Did it work? I don’t think so.

You see, Benton, Madore and Mielke — throw in state Rep. Liz Pike for good measure — simply don’t have an appreciation for the power of the press.

All of the advertising bad political actors employ will not overcome a diligent and vigilant press.

What’s next?

The Republican Party has options besides Benton, including backing someone who actually might be able to keep the seat Republican. If I were a bettin’ man, I’d say keep an eye on state Rep. Lynda Wilson. I don’t know her well — and I don’t agree with her on everything — but she’s very popular, well-liked and bright.

And Benton supporters should not worry about this column ruining his Christmas. He swears he never reads it.

So, just keep this one between you and me. OK?