Sen. Don Benton's new job as the chief environmental official of Clark County will have him regulate several industries that contributed plenty of money to his 2012 legislative campaign.
Also, Benton, R-Vancouver, appears to have no qualifications for the job as the county's director of environmental services, The Columbian newspaper of Vancouver reported. Benton accepted the post Thursday, a press release said. The pay is $96,936 to $136,956 per year.
Entering the 2013 legislative session, Benton had been a consultant for television station sales staffs. His other background is in insurance.
He is also deputy leader of the Senate Republican Caucus in Olympia, having been in the Senate since 1996.
He did not return messages requesting comment for this story that were left Thursday with staff members.
Benton's chief environmental bill in the current 2013 session called for prohibiting Washington and its local governments from restricting property rights due to policies traced back to the United Nation's "Agenda 21." Created in 1992, Agenda 21 is a 300-page document that addresses sustainable-development efforts. The United States signed the Agenda 21 agreement, which is non-binding. Despite its non-binding status, Benton said in a February interview that Agenda 21's policies have seeped into state and local government regulations, such as requiring stream setbacks for construction. The bill died in committee more than two months ago.
Benton is also a leading opponent of the Columbia River Crossing bridge project in Vancouver, and his new county job will give him reviewing power over the Clark County permits needed to complete the project.
Benton raised $482,787 through 1,017 donations for his 2012 Senate election campaign, spending $475,051, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission records. It was the second highest dollar amount of donations for a 2012 legislative race — exceeded only by efforts of Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, who raised almost $500,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to keep her seat. Haugen's loss and Benton's extremely narrow win were key factors in the Republicans' controlling role of the Washington Senate in the current session.
Most legislative candidates' campaign war chests were in the neighborhood of $100,000 in donations, PDC records showed.
Many donors to Benton's 2012 senate campaign came from commercial construction interests; real-estate developers; mobile home parks; manufactured home builders; mortgage lenders; Realtors; and forest groups, including Weyerhaeuser. There were also donations from 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. .
Many of these donors gave $900 donations, and a few gave $900 twice, PDC records showed. The maximum single allowable donation amount for individuals, political action committees and corporations is $1,000
Meanwhile, Benton has been a leading opponent of replacing the Vancouver-Portland bridge with a new $3.5 billion Interstate 5 bridge dubbed the "Columbia River Crossing." Clark County's legislative delegation to Olympia is almost evenly split on the issue with Democrats supporting the new bridge and Republicans wanting to keep the old one.
The main pro-new-bridge arguments are that the current bridge is very old and is a major link along a major West Coast transportation corridor. The anti-new-bridge arguments are that it would be too low for some boat traffic and Vancouver residents don't want to pay for light rail that would come with the new bridge.
The feds will pay for most of the new bridge with Oregon and Washington each supposed to pony up $450 million. Oregon has allocated it share. Benton is a leader in the Republican-oriented Washington Senate stopping this state's appropriation. In April, Benton was cocky in lambasting Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's unsuccessful efforts to try to get the Senate Republicans to change their minds.
After meeting with Inslee and LaHood, Benton issued a statement saying: "it wasn’t even a fair fight. I’d say we schooled the transportation secretary in a way he couldn’t possibly have expected. ... I guess the governor thought he could strong-arm the Senate Majority Coalition into rolling over by bringing the D.C. folks in to give us the same ‘this bridge or no bridge’ lecture he’s been delivering. Instead, the transportation secretary had his hat handed to him."
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