Breaking news out of Clark County this afternoon: Entrenched Republican incumbent Don Benton, who has long been one of Tim Eyman’s biggest boosters in the Legislature, is retiring from the Washington State Senate.
Benton said in a statement Saturday that he will finish his current term, which expires at the end of the year. Benton also works as Clark County’s director of environmental services. He said he made his decision to leave the Legislature with “a heavy heart,” but added his bosses at the county didn’t want him to continue serving as a lawmaker while also working as the environmental services director.
Benton is one of several militant Republicans in the Washington State Legislature who espouses anti-government views despite holding a public sector job.
Claims of cronyism are sweeping through Clark County government after a state senator [Benton] was given the job of a man who may have exposed a misuse of Clark County funds.
That’s caused outrage from hundreds of citizens.
So far, one county employee has resigned in protest over this hire. A protest also is planned for outside of the Clark County commissioners meeting Tuesday — with more than 200 people so far signing up to speak at that meeting.
“Unfortunately, the potential for abuse now seems to be the practice,” said Democrat Steve Stuart, chair of the non-partisan Clark County Board of Commissioners.
A little more context: It’s important to understand that at the time, Clark County (which encompasses America’s Vancouver) was governed by a three-member county commission made up of two militant Republicans and one Democrat.
If this isn’t a textbook definition of cronyism, we’re not sure what is:
Benton was given the position just a few days after applying. He’s a personal friend of one of the commissioners, Tom Mielke.
Last month, the group voted to get rid of Director of Environmental Services Kevin Gray.
Adding to the controversy is that Gray is considered by many as a man who blew the whistle on alleged corruption in the county. In a whistle-blower memorandum, Gray said he has been targeted and experienced retaliation after reporting that a supervisor was using county money for his private business.
Six months before Benton got the job described in the excerpts above, he narrowly won reelection in an extremely tight contest with Democrat Tim Probst, who had given up his House seat to challenge Benton for Senate.
Benton’s margin of victory was just seventy-four votes.
On January 13th Probst announced he would challenge Benton again, setting up another marquee contest in 2016. Now that Benton is out, Probst will be running for an open seat. It’s worth noting: If Democrats can get Probst elected and knock out one other Republican in another legislative district without losing any seats, they will have a majority in the Washington State Senate a year from now.