Sen. Ann Rivers cussed out colleague Don Benton twice in front of fellow Republican state senators — dropping at least one F-bomb on him.
Consequently, Benton is really pissed off — though he might put it more decorously — at Rivers and at leaders of the Republican-oriented Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus. who want the feud to fizzle.
No such luck. Benton, who wrote a letter accusing majority coalition leaders of being "retaliatory" against him, as well as "cowardly" and "amoral," has obtained an investigation into Rivers' conduct.
Rivers apparently considered filing a counter-complaint, alleging that Benton is harassing her. But no such complaint had been filed by Friday at the Senate majority and minority leaders' offices, which is protocol for such an action. Speaking of protocol, Senate leaders have appointed Sens. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, and Karen Fraser, D-Olympia to investigate the matter. The two senators met about the issue for the first time Friday.
Benton and Rivers both represent Clark County. Both are among the more conservative Senate Republicans. Both spearhead the opposition to replacing the Columbia River Bridge between Vancouver and Portland. Their voting records are similar, and they have co-sponsored a few bills.
Benton is deputy majority leader. He has been in the Washington Senate since 1996, after a two-year stint in the House. He recently made headlines for obtaining a $100,000-a-year job as head of Clark County's environmental services department despite having no apparent qualifications for the post — not to mention a record of hostility toward environmental regulations. He also chairs the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee, which restored staffing privileges to Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, at the beginning of the 2013 session. Roach had lost her right to staff after verbally abusing subordinates. Her privileges were returned in an apparent exchange for her vote, which helped give the 23-Republican-two-Democrat coalition control of the Senate.
Rivers served in the House in 2010-2012 before being elected to the Senate in 2012. She is the majority whip, meaning she is in charge of keeping track of the majority coalition's members, including their intended votes prior to floor sessions.
Both Rivers and Benton were in their districts Friday, and did not reply to messages seeking comments. However, four letters by Benton, one email by Rivers and one letter by the majority coalition leaders are on file at the Secretary of the Senate's office. These documents provide an outline of the feud.
There were two incidents: The first incident occured in the back of the Senate chamber during a floor session on April 19. Another took place during a Majority Coalition Caucus meeting on June 3.
The April 19 incident took place near some majority coalition senators whose seats are in the back of the main Senate chamber. None of the documents explains what triggered the incident, and none cited specific details. It appears Rivers' profanity did not occur during a formal floor speech with a microphone, but instead happened during one of the informal conversations routinely conducted during any floor session.
Benton wrote the Secretary of Senate's office on April 22 to say that Rivers loudly directed "expletives" at him; a later letter said Rivers had used an "'F' bomb."
"Her boisterous and unprofessional behavior, combined with her use of profanity, is unacceptable in any venue, especially on the floor of the Senate," Benton wrote.
He continued: "At one point during her uncontrollable tirade, I was actually afraid that she may even physically strike me. It was a very uncomfortable feeling. I have been on the receiving end of many heated comments over the years, but I have never before felt the threat of physical violence. This time was different. She was so out of control I felt anything was possible. I repeatedly asked her to calm down and lower her voice. The tirade became so out-of-place that Senator (Tim) Sheldon even asked Senator Rivers to calm down and take it off the Senate floor. ... I am requesting that official action be taken to insure that Senator Rivers' behavior be stopped."
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