The Vetting of Don Benton, Candidate for U.S. Senate – Up Next, Dino Rossi

There seemed to be a bit of a different atmosphere surrounding Don Benton’s vetting session by We The People – Southwest Washington (WTP) earlier this week. No doubt, that was due to the fact that the vetting of this candidate for U.S. Senate came on the eve of Dino Rossi announcing his entrance into that race. In fact, in his opening remarks, Thomas Hann, Founder of WTP, named three tentative dates for Rossi’s vetting. Surprisingly, in Benton’s vetting session, no one asked him about Rossi’s (then) impending announcement. That was disappointing. I was looking forward to hearing Benton’s views on that.

With that said, I still found Benton’s vetting session to be interesting, including a couple of remarkable surprises. First of all, I was surprised at experiencing a more appealing performance on Benton’s part than I had expected. My first direct exposure to Benton was at a pro-life rally on the steps of the Capitol in Olympia. He was speaking (at length) and I asked another politician in the crowd about him. The other politician said, “Oh, that’s State Senator Don Benton. He’s a real blow-hard.” Of course, I gave Benton credit for speaking at a pro-life rally but I came away from there thinking of him as an old-style career politician … not my cup of tea. Next, I was present at the Clark County Lincoln Day Dinner when Benton announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. I felt like I was in a scene from “The Last Hurrah”, as Benton and his supporters trampled on the tone that Clark County GOP Chairman, Ryan Hart, had set to be even-handed to the numerous candidates present at that event. Needless to say, that only reinforced my view of Benton, as an old-style career politician. Most recently, that view was amplified further through reading Chris Widener’s article “The Skinny on the U.S. Senate Race in WA, from a Former Candidate”. In that article, though Widener seems to give Benton credit for being quite good at being a “politician”, his report of consistently getting an eye-rolling reaction when asking others about Benton just added to my opinion of this candidate, as an old-style career politician.

Maybe it’s just proof that Chris Widener is right that Don Benton is quite good at being a “politician” but, for the most part, I was favorably impressed with how Benton conducted himself during this vetting session. In his opening remarks, Benton noted that, in addition to his 15 years in government, he has operated a Sales consulting business for 30 years. I’m in favor of having elected officials who also have some real-world business experience and since I’m a Sales professional myself, I more easily identified with Benton. I also, appreciated Benton pointing out that, as a State Legislator, he had participated in the repeal of Washington State’s version of “Hillarycare” and relating that to the possibility of repealing “Obamacare”. Overall, I thought Benton did a good job of intelligently speaking to the issues that seem to be of the greatest concern to “the grassroots” and though he referred to himself as not being a “Constitutional Scholar”, I thought he did the best job so far of any candidate, in terms of speaking to Constitutional matters.

When it came to the Q&A portion of this WTP vetting session, again, I was favorably impressed with Benton’s performance. When he was asked about voting on legislation “with both good and bad components”, I appreciated Benton pointing out that he is the only candidate in Washington State’s U.S. Senate race who has a record as a legislator. In other words, you don’t have to just take his word that he is in favor of “one-item bills” and that he opposes earmarks. You can check his voting record.

My favorable impression of Benton’s performance continued as the Q&A session transitioned from questions being posed by the WTP panel to questions coming from attendees who had been selected by lottery. However, it was during this time that the second and most remarkable surprise of the evening occurred. I felt that Benton’s responses all seemed well aligned with the views of most WTP participants. That included the topic of Illegal Immigration, where Benton stated that it’s critical for us to “seal the borders.” Then, literally, with the last attendee-questioner in line, the tenor of the evening took a dramatic turn. The question centered on the topic of E-Verify, an internet-based system aimed at assuring that employers who get government contracts are only employing workers who are in the U.S. legally. The specific question was if, in his 15 years in state government, especially considering the significance of illegal immigration to Washington State, as a border state, Benton had ever drafted any state legislation intended to address this problem. It was though Benton had been poleaxed. For a few moments, he just seemed dumbstruck. Then, he muttered something about “15 years.” Finally, he said he didn’t recall doing so, though he said he “may have co-sponsored” some related legislation. I’m still not sure what this adds up to. When WTP makes the video recording of this session available, I suggest that you take a look at this for yourself and make your own determination about its implications.

Although Don Benton’s closing comments were mostly centered on the standard candidate closing pitch (though more polished than most) for volunteers and donations, he did make what seemed to be a veiled acknowledgement of the change in his race, with Rossi joining in. A couple of times he said that, next January, he will be serving us in the Senate … it’s just a question of whether it’s the U.S. Senate or the Washington State Senate. Obviously, we’ll see how this turns out. I’ll be looking forward to watching this election cycle continue to unfold. My hope is that a candidate can be fielded for the General Election who has the enthusiastic support of “We The People” and with that combination, we will retire Senator Patty Murray.

SPECIALNOTE: If you’ve been reading my “WTP Vetting Reports”, you know that I’ve been trying to cover each vetting session, including: U.S. Senate (WA), U.S. Congress (WA-03) and State Legislature (SW-WA). Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the WTP vetting session held on May 18th. With that, I realized I’m just not going to be able to cover them all. I’ll do the best I can. Since I’ve covered all the Republican U.S. Senate candidates except Clint Didier, out of fairness to him, I sent the Didier campaign an offer to interview him. So far, they haven’t responded to my offer.