All Politics is Local

Benton and the bridge

Sporting a “Make I-5 Great Again” lapel button, Mark Brown, the city of Vancouver’s lobbyist in Olympia, told city councilors an attempt to revive conversations on how to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge was gaining momentum this legislative session.

“Mark, I think it’s widely acknowledged that the I-5 Bridge is antiquated, unsafe, debilitating to our economy and you note in your report it’s internationally recognized as a transportation choke point,” Mayor Tim Leavitt said to Brown during Monday night’s meeting.

So, Leavitt asked, why were there four votes in opposition to the bill in the Senate?

“These were votes that at first when I looked at them, I was scratching my head,” Brown admitted, noting there was a “Spokane legislator, a Monroe legislator, a Bellingham legislator.” “But I think those are all people that got contacted by former Sen. Don Benton and he asked them to vote ‘no.’ He had done some work on this apparently and found the time to make some calls and send some messages out and pick up a few votes … But I suspect they responded to his petition to vote no,” Brown said.

As we reported last month, Benton did make calls and send text messages to several local lawmakers expressing his disapproval of the bridge.

Benton was a vocal opponent and key player in killing the Columbia River Crossing project. He’s now a senior White House adviser to President Donald Trump.

Benton told Clark County Today that he texted Sen. Lynda Wilson as a constituent.

Here’s what he shared to the publication, “I think it is extremely unethical, off the charts unethical, for her to share a personal text with a newspaper,’’ Benton said. “She had no business sharing that. I was speaking with my representative and senators as a constituent not as an employee of the federal government. That’s not my role. I did it solely as a constituent. There was no threat in the text whatsoever. It was just a statement of disappointment as my representative that Lynda could support something like that.’’

Now, I don’t know why those four state Senators  decided to vote against the bridge bill Benton tried to kill. They could have a myriad of reasons. One of them, Sen. Doug Ericksen, who represents Whatcom County, now works with Benton at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

But what I do know is Benton tried to kill the bill. And being a former state Senator, a current senior White House adviser and someone who made numerous calls to try and derail the legislative, it’s a stretch to say he’s merely “a constituent” when it comes to this issue.

It’s also interesting he decided to call Sen. Wilson out in the Clark County Today story, despite The Columbian’s story quoting four lawmakers saying the same thing about Benton.

And for the record, Sen. Wilson did not share her text with The Columbian. When she was called, she simply confirmed Benton texted her – as did the handful of other legislators quoted in The Columbian’s story. She declined to show the actual text when asked.

Despite Benton’s efforts, the bill sailed out of the Senate and is currently in the House.

Lauren Dake

Lauren Dake covers politics for The Columbian. You can reach her at 360-735-4534 or lauren.dake@columbian.com. Follow her on Twitter .

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