This Washington

Benton Accuses Republican Leadership of Retaliation

Benton's complaint includes theory of retaliatory intimidation from Republican leaders.

By Josh Feit June 21, 2013

As we noted in Fizz, the AP had the news yesterday that Republican state Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver) has filed a formal complaint with the secretary of the senate against his caucus colleague Sen. Ann Rivers (R-18, La Center).

We've gotten a chance to review the documents in his complaint—emails between Sens. Benton and Rivers (she apologizes for cursing at him), letters from Benton to Secretary of the Senate Hunter Goodman explaining his concerns about Rivers' "unstable" behavior, and letters where Benton accuses Republican leadership of attempting to retaliate against him and intimidate him out of filing a complaint ... for fear of press coverage. 

There is also a response from senate leadership—Sens. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), Mark Schoesler (R-9, Ritzville), and Linda Evans Parlette (R-12, Wenatchee)—with a plan to resolve the hostilities that may as well include instructions to turn in their coloring books if they can't learn how to share their crayons.

 Senator Smith was sitting in the seat that I have had all year. I  asked him if someone had asked him to sit in my seat. His response was, “Yes, Senator Parlette." Immediately upon caucus adjournment, I approached Senator Parlette and asked her why she had instructed Senator Smith to sit in my seat. 

The plan reassigns Benton and Rivers' caucus room seats so they're not sitting near each other, makes sure they don't share any caucus staff in the future, and gives Benton a different go-to for caucus whip business (Sen. Rivers is the caucus whip.)

Benton, who calls leadership's claim that both senators share the blame for their discordant relationship "inaccurate," rejects the plan: "Based on Senator Rivers' outburst on June 3rd, your first 'arrangement' will be ineffective. On that occasion, I was sitting in Senator Dammeier's [Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-25, Puyallup] chair. I spoke generally of the need for greater media coverage [of the Columbia River Crossing], with no mention whatsoever of Senator Rivers. Nevertheless, this did not stop her from yelling profanity at me in front of you and the whole caucus."

Benton, the Republicans' deputy leader, informs them he's going forward with his complaint. Benton, it's worth noting, won a squeaker election in November 2012 (by 78 votes!) that gave the Republicans the numbers to stage their successful coup.

The story that Sen. Benton relates is this: Sen. Rivers went off on him twice—with a "loud and disgusting use of expletives"—once (in April) on the floor of the senate and once (in June) "in the presence of the entire caucus ... Her verbal abuse, heavily laced with profanity, was almost identical to that of the April 19 incident. Therefore, I can no longer conclude that the April 19th incident was an anomaly... Senator Rivers has shown that she is incapable of controlling her temper, even in the professional atmosphere of the Senate. Therefore, I am obligated to file the attached complaint ... I hope it will encourage her to seek counseling so as to better control her anger."

We have a message in to Sen. Rivers.

At issue: the Columbia River Crossing, the $450,000 (from Washington state) bridge and light rail project that both Benton and Rivers oppose. The way Benton tells it in his complaint, Rivers was mad that Benton was the media point person.

The story gets really interesting when Benton—an archconservative who's gotten plenty of media attention this session for weighing down the supposedly bipartisan Majority Coalition Caucus with right-wing bills about U.N. conspiracies, for example—smells a conspiracy against him by leadership, who he suggests may be coordinating with Rivers to intimidate him with a countercomplaint.

Some of his key evidence? When another caucus colleague, Sen. John Smith (R-7, Colville) is suddenly sitting in Benton's caucus room chair "that I have had all year," he writes:

Dear Hunter [Hunter Goodman, Secretary of the Senate],
Today upon my arrival in caucus, Senator Smith was sitting in the seat that I have had all year. While I quietly took his open seat, I later asked him if someone had asked him to sit in my seat. His response was, “Yes, Senator Parlette”. I asked if she had given him a reason, and he said no. Immediately upon caucus adjournment, I approached Senator Parlette and asked her why she had instructed Senator Smith to sit in my seat. She said it was an attempt to separate me from Senator Rivers. My response was that if Senator Rivers wanted to move, she was more than welcome to move to any other seat in the room, but I liked my seat and had no intention of moving. I further informed Senator Parlette that her unilateral attempt without any prior notice to me of relocating me was inappropriate and retaliatory in nature, and that I did not appreciate her retaliating against me for filing a formal complaint against Senator Rivers for her behavior.
Senator Parlette became irate, and tried to push by me as I was moving out of the way for Senator Becker. Once Senator Becker had gone by, I moved out of the way for Senator Parlette to pass.
Immediately following the discussion with Senator Parlette, I notified MCC Chief of Staff Jim Troyer and Senate Counsel Jeannie Gorrell that I thought the actions of our caucus were retaliatory and asked them to take action to insure that our caucus leadership takes my claim seriously and immediately discontinue any retaliatory action.
Ms. Gorrell has made it clear that the Republican caucus leadership is engaging in a circle the wagons mentality to protect one of their own. It would seem that they are working with Senator Rivers to create a false counter complaint. 



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