State senators took time Wednesday to say goodbye to longtime Republican lawmaker Sen. Don Benton, who is retiring at the end of this year.
Benton of Vancouver is a vocal conservative who has served 22 years in the Legislature.
Many of his colleagues spoke of Benton’s knowledge of procedural and Senate rules, his overall political prowess and a knack for rhetorical flair.
Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said the two sometimes rankled each other. But Fain painted a picture of a man who could quickly turn from a “rabid dog” to “the most helpful person in the universe.”
Many people told stories of Benton’s passion and said he fought hard for his constituents and veterans, in particular.
Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, looked at Benton and said, “You do have a big heart, Don.”
Some colleagues referred to “Diamond D” or “Uncle D” as having a tornadolike force in the Senate.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, said her dear friend is “motivated by what he thinks is right.”
Sometimes, Roach said, she would look around the Senate floor and wonder with whom she would share a Thanksgiving meal.
“I would have Thanksgiving dinner with Don Benton,” Roach said.
She also spoke of Benton’s enthusiasm.
“A person with passion is bombastic,” Roach said. “I’ve always said that, and what a boring life it is if you don’t have passion.”
Democrat Maralyn Chase choked back tears and admitted people have asked her how she, a progressive, could have formed such a close friendship with a conservative from the 17th Legislative District.
“Well, it’s easy,” she said, looking at Benton, adding, “I’m going to miss you so.”
Benton always exemplified, “the Golden Rule as a way of life,” Chase said.
“I want to tell you, a lot of … people don’t realize he’s an environmentalist,” Chase said. “He really is. He just showed a lot of people in Clark County what kind of an environmentalist he is. He is also a great manager. … He saved them a lot of money.”
Benton said he appreciated the tribute. He will continue to work as the director of Clark County Environmental Services and perhaps, someday, he’ll get back into politics.
“Oh, who knows. I’m a passionate person. I have a lot of passionate interests. (Helping) homeless veterans is another passion. … Look, I’m going to be involved in my community in a number of ways. If that leads me back to politics in the future, who knows at this stage in the game?” Benton said.
Benton was first elected to the state House in 1994 and to the state Senate in 1996.
His colleagues noted his long history of staunchly opposing tax hikes. He was also a key player in killing the Columbia River Crossing.
In 2013, Benton and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, made headlines for a high-profile spat. Their relationship appeared to not recover. Rivers did not speak during the tribute.
Democrat Tim Probst announced in January that he was running for Benton’s seat. Probst, a former legislator, lost to Benton for the 17th Legislative District Senate seat in 2012 by 76 votes. Rep. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, is also running for Benton’s seat.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn the 2016 legislative session today.