Benton merely a Senate bully

The unnecessarily long 2013 legislative sessions may be over, but the internal squabbles linger on. Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, reached for new heights in hypocrisy when he filed a complaint against his colleague, Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, for “not only violating our respectful workplace policy,” but insulting “the decorum of the Senate.”

It wasn’t appropriate for Rivers to call Benton “a piece of (expletive),” regardless of how strongly she felt the description fit him. Surely we can reasonably expect our esteemed senators to elevate debate above middle school name-calling.

But any complaint over decorum from Benton mocks the very notion of civil discourse.

Former 5th District Sen. Cheryl Pflug recalled in The Columbian newspaper that after she voted in favor of same-sex marriage, Benton leaned into her face “ and yelled (Expletive) you! (Expletive) you!” So it makes sense that Pflug called Benton’s complaint the “height of hypocrisy.”

It seems an accurate description considering that it was Benton who, as chair of the senate’s facilities and operations committee, lifted all the Republican caucus sanctions against Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, even though she repeatedly mistreated staff, screaming and spewing venom, according to staff testimony.

On the surface, this just seems like a typical bullying issue; Benton likes to dish it out, but he can’t take it. But it’s more serious than that.

Benton’s actions undermine the public’s faith in good elected officials. How can we expect the public to respect the state Senate, and government in general, when elected officials create and allow a hostile work environment?

Benton’s behavior doesn’t just make him look foolish. He casts a unwarranted cloud over the entire Senate, even though it is composed of mostly civil and well-intentioned lawmakers.