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Benton's explanation just doesn't wash

“This is Don Benton.” said the voice on the telephone.

I don’t know that I was expecting a call. State Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver was the subject of one of the two columns I sent out last week to the newspapers that buy them and I was far from supportive of his announcement he will run against U.S. Sen. Patty Murray this year.

State Democratic chair Dwight Pelz was quoted as saying Benton “may be the strongest candidate in the race so far,” considering the six others are unknowns without political experience. I questioned that, recalling the events of 2000 when U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton lost to Maria Cantwell because she had millions to spend on the campaign and he didn’t.

I wrote that Benton. then the Republican state party chair, squirreled away $1 million in donations so he could, pay cash for an office building in Olympia and move party headquarters there from Tukwila after the election.

I quoted Slade’s press secretary on how strapped for cash he was while Maria had, it was said although I didn’t believe it, $40 million in software computer stock.

I didn’t mention, although I had in columns at the time that Slade also was the target of Indian tribes all over the nation who were asked to contribute to Maria’s campaign and did. Slade was at the top or near the top of the hate list for the tribes because he tried to get fair and equal treatment for both tribal members and non-tribal members denied the ability to sue tribes when necessary because they claimed sovereign immunity. He also wanted to cut generous federal appropriations going to rich casino operating tribes and give more money instead to the revenue-poor ones.

Anyway, I said Slade might not have lost (by 2,229 votes) or the Republicans the legislative majority if the money Benton controlled had been made available to him. I said that as far as Don Benton being strong, limburger cheese was strong because it stinks and Don Benton was limburger cheese.

Benton didn’t mention that part of the column. He said he didn’t remember whether he had ever met me but he paid $340,000 for the building, not $1 million, and he did it after the election, not before.

He also said no campaign money was used, that Slade was the only real loss because they added Doug Sutherland as lands commissioner and Sam Reed as secretary of state. They gained two seats in the Senate, which, if they counted Tim Sheldon, Potlatch Democrat who voted occasionally with the GOP, gave them the majority. The House was tied in 1999 and in 2000. He just wanted to get the facts straight. Benton said.

I’ve written all this before about the million bucks to buy the building and how lack of money probably cost Slade his seat, I said, and you didn’t question it then. Maybe he didn’t see it then, he said.

Maybe. His call came at night and I was taking notes on the back of an envelope so I failed to pursue his explanation, like if the $340,000 wasn’t from campaign donations, where was it from’? If it wasn’t a million, which is what the word was at the time, it’s still a heckuva lot of money for a political party to amass and not spend trying to elect candidates. It surely couldn’t have been from members’ dues or bake sales.

I take back nothing. We lost one of the finest senators this state has ever fielded in Slade Gorton, left swinging in the wind by his own party chair who was more interested in feathering his nest than sharing his stash with the top Republican on the ticket.

(Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA., 98340.)

 
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