Benton has inspired hilarious headlines before – remember the French chef?

News of Don Benton’s hiring has gone coast-to-coast, as the Associated Press put a story on the national news wire.

Closer to home, The Oregonian’s senior political writer, Jeff Mapes, referred to Clark County as “Clarkistan.” As one Seattle website noted, not only does Benton have no experience in environmental services, donors to his 2012 campaign included “TransAlta, which owns the coal power plant in Chehalis; fuel transportation firms; energy companies; railroads, and the Association of Washington Business which opposes many pro-environment bills in the Legislature.”

But Benton has made national news before. In 2002, when the Capitol was undergoing a $100 million renovation due to damage from the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, Benton pitched a fit over the temporary loss of the Senate’s private dining room and the French chefs who prepared the food.

“THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE,” Benton wrote in a letter to the Facilities and Operations Committee and the Secretary of the Senate that was signed by 36 of 49 senators. (Many senators later expressed regret and said they should have read the letter more carefully.) “We as members of the Senate, have come to look forward to the quality food prepared by Jean Pierre and Kerri, as well as the quiet camradery (sic) of our fellow Senators in a private setting,” Benton wrote.

The Olympian newspaper first obtained Benton’s letter, written in the midst of writing a budget that cut $685 million in services and laid off hundreds of state workers.

Benton wrote that “eating lunch in a joint dining room with the House is an unacceptable alternative.”

Once the letter became public, Benton defended it, telling The Columbian that, “the letter was never about French cuisine. The fact the guy happens to be a French chef is irrelevant. He cooks spaghetti and hamburgers and sandwiches.”

The point, Benton said, was the dining room was a place senators could unwind and not have to leave the campus to eat. The cost of the meals almost covered the cost of operating the dining room, and Benton said he’d be willing to pay more for meals so the cost was completely covered.

Still, Benton’s bellyaching was irresistible to the media.

An editorial in The Seattle Times: “Trainwreck Benton has found another way to embarrass himself and the body he represents. A few senators took their names off Benton’s ridiculous letter; many others wish they had.”

An editorial in The Seattle Post-Intellingencer:  “While taxpayers brace for cutbacks, Benton & Co. want to live the high life, noshing on carefully prepared French lunches of crepes, onion soup and more. Call it haughty cuisine.”

Anchorage Daily News political column, comparing dining room flap to Alaska politics: “See, we may not have the worst guys in the known universe.”



Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at or 360-735-4508.

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