Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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Press Talk: Why did Benton go down?

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

State Sen. Don Benton was finished and he knew it.

So on Saturday, he announced “no más.” This would be his last rodeo. He won’t run again.

To the casual observer, it might be a head-scratcher. Why would a guy who has served for more than two decades in the Washington Legislature call it quits? At 58, he’s still relatively young. And a superficial look at all those years says he’s won a lot of races.

But there was trouble in paradise. Deep trouble.

What happened?

Many would argue The Columbian did him in.

One of my right-wing blogger buddies — Lew Waters — apparently took the time to reread every one of my Press Talk columns so he could identify the ones that he determined were negative toward Clark County Councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke, as well as Benton.

Apparently, my total is just under 100. Thanks, Lew, for the hard work!

What Lew is getting at, of course, is that The Columbian has been vigilant — some would argue relentless — when it came to stupid stuff being done by politicians.

And — hey, I can’t help this — much of the stupid stuff was being done by those three caballeros.  So I wrote about it.

It also should be noted, the heavy lifting — the real work — was being done by our quality staff.  They uncovered and reported on much of this gunk before I was commenting on it.

But — our critics would argue — why aren’t we looking at those nasty liberals out there? Surely, they’re doing as much stupid stuff as the conservatives we report and comment on.

This is a specious argument. It’s sort of like the driver who is pulled over for speeding asking why the cop isn’t arresting bank robbers. Essentially, Benton — and the M&M boys’ supporters — are conceding their guys have done stupid stuff.

That’s some support.

Did we see it coming?

When I received a text from our newsroom Saturday afternoon that Benton would not run again, lots of folks asked me if I was surprised.

I was at a community event Saturday night and told those who asked, “No.” In fact, a regular reader of The Columbian — and Press Talk — also wouldn’t be surprised.

On Dec. 19, I wrote a Press Talk with the headline “Benton is fading fast.”

In that column, state Republican Chair Susan Hutchison told me Benton’s poll numbers looked bad. And the last thing the Republicans want to do is give up their slim majority in the state Senate.

I also reported in that column that Benton’s poll numbers were so bad he actually paid for political ads on television almost a year before his election to try and get his poll numbers up.

It didn’t work.

Then on Jan. 23, I wrote another column saying that the noose was tightening around Benton. The county was putting pressure on him to actually be at his Department of Environmental Services job, where he is the director.

In the past, Benton was allowed to turn his county computer on while he was up in Olympia so he could say he was working. A stop was put to that a few weeks ago.

So Benton had to begin spending more time in Clark County so he could get paid and neglect his Senate job even more up in Olympia.

But was there a final straw?

For weeks, both Republicans and lobbyists were telling Benton they were finished with him. The big donations would be drying up, because no one was interested in throwing away precious campaign contributions.

And then on Friday — just one day before Benton announced he wouldn’t run — a very critical blog was written by The Freedom Foundation.

The Freedom Foundation is a nonprofit think tank whose self-described mission is to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government.

In particular, the foundation is not a fan of public unions. And most conservative Republicans do not go out of their way to support government unions.

Jeff Rhodes, the managing editor at the Freedom Foundation, called Benton out for introducing Senate Bill 6542. According to Rhodes, the bill would “Denude the Freedom Foundations’s efforts to inform home healthcare and childcare providers of their right not to pay union dues or fees.”

Rhodes then did a little digging into Benton’s record and found he often supported bills the foundation objected to. In fact, he described what he found in Benton’s record as “lowlights.”

Whether or not you believe government unions are too powerful, a conservative Republican who gets on the wrong side of the Freedom Foundation is in for a difficult slog.

Benton might have been able to survive this if his career hadn’t been filled with lowlights.

When Benton saw that blog post, he knew it was time.

What’s next?

In my Dec. 19 Press Talk column, I noted that Republicans were already eyeing state Rep. Lynda Wilson to push Benton aside. And I think the smart money still is on that play.

But keep an eye on Madore. Next to Benton, no one has a worse reputation than Madore. I had earlier made a case that Madore could resign as a county councilor. This most recent election pushed Madore into a minority role and he despises it. His views are mostly met with polite nods and then they’re dismissed.

So Madore is desperately looking for an exit strategy.

And this could be it.

He could claim it’s time to have a more influential role and that role could be as state senator.

But Madore doesn’t fare well against the announced Democratic candidate Tim Probst. In fact, he loses big against Probst.

Wilson, on the other hand, is very popular and could hold the seat for the Republicans.

But I don’t think Madore is concerned about losing the senate race. He’s gotten used to losing.

His main goal would be to try to lose with dignity so — in his mind — he could go out with his head held high.

As for Benton’s $115,000-a-year county job as environmental services director? Look for the county council — sometime in the middle of this year — to announce a study completely overhauling how the county does its business. As part of that overhaul, you likely will see the elimination of the environmental service department. Most of those in the department will simply be assigned elsewhere. But the director job? Benton’s job? Gone.

• • •

No question, the county will be much better off without Benton as a senator. Or as the county’s director of environmental services. Now we have to see how the rest of the cards play out.

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