Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Analysis of the Benton/Rivers debacle.

Dictated by Dragon Naturally Speaking 12.5

I initially blogged about this situation with a post on June 21 entitled Benton – Rivers: bad juju.

Among other things, I wrote:
What the hell was Benton thinking?

This is a war that Don cannot win. If he had asked me, here's what I would have told him.

1. To take this, what I would call the "nuclear option," is to damage the MCC.

2. When you were chair of the state GOP, one of the things that drove you to distraction was the efforts of executive board members to air internal controversies in the media.

3. The optics simply don't play.

4. You do not do well as "victim."

5. This presentation holds you as blameless, and that simply does not pass the straight-face test.

6. What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want out of this? Why didn't you think this through?
My advice then was to drop all this. It’s too late to drop it now; the damage has been and continues to be done.  I was ignored.

This is the result.

And here is how I see it.
The institution doesn't have a problem with Ann Rivers, Don. You do. And this smacks of retaliation. It smacks of your rage. It smacks of payback. And you cannot hide behind "the institution" as a justification for screwing this up so badly.
With my review of both the bidding and the evidence that has been presented as a part of the complaint process that Sen. Don Benton began many months ago, the biggest question that comes to mind is the question of “why?”

As I frequently tell people in the political world when the issue of what to do or how to do it comes up, one of my most important rules is to avoid flypaper issues. And if ever there was a flypaper issue, this one is it.

Simply put, the more Benton fights, the more stuck he gets.  And he doesn't understand that this fight, which he has very publicly lost, has only strengthened Rivers across the board.

My first observation: the entirety of this issue, from start to finish, has not injured Sen. Ann Rivers' political standing in any way. In fact, it’s difficult to come up with any other conclusion that does not support Sen. Rivers being strengthened by the entirety of this episode.

It’s difficult to say with any precision what Sen. Benton’s primary goal was here, except for the obvious: the destruction of Sen. Ann Rivers' political career.

Clearly, no one in the Benton camp bothered to ever look at him and say, “Don, this is a very bad idea, with very bad optics, and you cannot win,” or at least anyone he'd listen to.

Sometimes in politics, you have to look around. In whiteboarding any given situation to the extent that you are in a place in this political spectrum, your goal should be one of outcomes. You have to wonder: exactly what is it that you hope to accomplish? Where do you want to wind up when all the shouting is done?

Well, whatever that was, Benton did not get it.

One of my other rules in politics is that perception is the reality. These are rules that are well known to Sen. Benton, as he has been in this arena for at least 20 years, and has observed literally hundreds of campaigns during that time. He may believe that he was in the right here, but that does not matter.

Much like his current situation with the County, wherein I happen to believe that the commissioners did nothing wrong in utilizing a system put in the place by Democrat commissioners to hire whoever it is that they wanted for whatever jobs they wanted to give them, that such is the reality makes no difference when it comes to the perception.

In this instance, what we have is a senator with a certain reputation that has built up over his tenure as something of a "bull in a china shop.” Regardless of any other element, the perception is going to be, when reviewing the records and the history involved: Benton started it.

There is a reason that Sen. Ann Rivers was the number one vote-getter for all of the freeholders in Clark County. That is to say, that without actually going out and running what anyone would call a campaign, Sen. Rivers proceeded to gain more votes by a substantial margin than any other freeholder candidate in the county.

One can only imagine what polling done today would indicate when it comes to the matter of the issue of positives and negatives.

If one were to poll Sen. Benton’s negatives, what would they be?

If one were to poll Sen. Rivers negatives what would those numbers be?

That sets the table for the development of a perception on this issue that is difficult to escape: Sen. Don Benton suffered a massive political defeat with this report. He will find little sympathy within the political realm for what’s happened here, and in pushing this issue, he has profoundly increased the political cacophony of the drumbeat for his head.

Perception, as I pointed out, is the reality. But the reality is also the reality. And here is Sen. Benton’s reality: there are few other things that he could have done that would’ve accomplished more to ensure that he loses anything close to the female vote in whatever election he may partake in upcoming years.

The perception for Sen. Rivers? Based on the totality of response and the freeholder vote, it’s this: that she stood up to and fought back against what amounts to a bully.

People read and listen in pictures. And the issue here, frankly, is that people can easily see themselves reacting to Benton the exact same way that Rivers did, while they cannot see themselves acting as Benton did. And that is the critical element here.

Whether that’s the truth or not is left to the mind of the individual beholder. But that is the perception.

Let’s keep in mind the fact that all of this could (and should) have been avoided.  One wonders, when the public looks into the situation, are they going to be asking themselves: what would’ve happened here if Ann Rivers had been, for example Dan Rivers?

There can be no doubt that Sen. Benton has attempted to do a great deal of political harm to Sen. Rivers as spelled out in this episode. The evidence is damning, when it comes to that, and one has to question the motives for such a move on Sen. Benton’s part. Nothing that I’ve written here is anything that Benton could not, and likely did, consider before he acted. So what is the motivation? Why did he damage himself in this way?

In politics, there are only so many motivations available for a politician. Ideally, we would like to at least have the fantasy that the motivations of our political leaders are purely based on altruism, what’s best for the people, and what’s most reflective of the will of the people that they would represent… Efforts by local political leaders to ignore the people on the CRC project notwithstanding.

Failing that, we are left with the motives of self-enhancement and/or anger, for lack of better terms. The “what’s in it for me” school of thought and politics.

Sen. Rivers is a rising Republican star who has done yeoman’s work for the party and the Senate who has a brilliant political future ahead. How does injuring Sen. Rivers politically enhance Sen. Benton’s persona, his political power, or his political future?

And failing that, the remaining motivation available for a politician to act is anger.

Anger in politics is an interesting disease. It can and does frequently result in actions taken by politicians that are not well thought out, that have no logic to them, and that are more self-defeating than gaining either for the individual politician or for the people they represent.

My analysis of the situation has been, from the very beginning, that this is about anger more than any other aspect. And anger in politics as in life is not based on logic nor is it necessarily based on reality and certainly, as in this case, cannot be said to be based on any strategic thinking.

The irony of all of this speaks for itself: without Sen. Ann Rivers, it’s likely there would be no Sen. Don Benton to be at issue.

The assistance Sen. Rivers provided Sen. Benton during the course of his campaign was crucial, and without that assistance, Sen. Benton would not have won the election. That assistance is apparently meaningless to Sen. Benton.

Going to Hawaii while everyone else was out on ballot chase was a serious error in judgment.  Given the steps undertaken to hide that adventure, it's likely that he KNEW it was the wrong thing to do.

It’s the kind of thing you cannot hide and that you should not hide, because it will come out at some point when you least want it to. It’s the kind of thing that makes others question judgment, not so much because Sen. Benton actually went to Hawaii; that was likely a planned vacation that had been on the books for quite some time, and so going to vacation in Hawaii was probably not a bad thing to do. If…

If… You would shut down your ballot chase operation, which was taking place in the cold and the rain and sleet on occasion, of mid-to-late November weather… entirely at Senate campaign expense.

Ultimately, it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion as to the motive of this episode resulting from anything other than Sen. Rivers' refusal to vote for Sen. Benton in the reorganization, and then having the courage to admit it to him. Few others are possessed of that kind of courage, because they at least have some foreknowledge of the anger that would result.

Unfortunately, for Sen. Benton as it turns out, most everything that I wrote in that post of June 21 has come to pass. The tragedy of this for Benton is that none of it was necessary, none of it was needed, none of it would change anything, and that it would waste so much money, time, energy, and political capital; not just his, but also Commissioners Madore and Mielke who hired him for Clark County.

Locally, what this does is refuel the political left’s anger at Sen. Benton, and by extension, Commissioner Madore.

Madore of course had nothing to do with this. But at the end of the day, he is going to suffer collateral damage because of his dogged determination to stand by Sen. Benton.

This is a tough situation for both Commissioners Madore and Mielke. With this report, the local leftist media will once again amp up their hate campaign against the three of them.… All quite unnecessarily.

One of the critical elements for any politician in the modern age is situational awareness. In the end, much more has been lost here for Sen. Benton and his supporters including Commissioner Madore, than he ever hoped to gain had his complaint against Rivers been successful. And that is a demonstrated lack of situational awareness.

In six days, another session with the Washington state legislature will be underway. Critical issues will be in front of the legislature generally and the Senate specifically. The MCC is numerically stronger now by virtue of adding a Republican member (Sen. Jan Angel) giving the MCC a 26 to 23 majority in the Senate.

How much of their effectiveness has been impacted by this episode? Is the MCC weaker based on the actions of Sen. Benton? The issues crucial to Southwest Washington are not any less crucial because of this situation. It is incumbent upon both Sen. Benton and Sen. Rivers to find a way to work together to represent the people of Clark County. But I’m not holding my breath that Sen. Benton will allow that to happen.

I cannot conceive of a time in his political life where introspection and readjustment is more required.

I fear that as Sen. Benton’s political career comes to a close… and it is coming to a close… He will not be known for doing the things that the people of Southwest Washington generally and Clark County particularly wanted him to do. He will not be known for getting rid of the idiotic HOV lane by the bridge, the one-year experiment that somehow managed to morph into a four-year nightmare of disaster and expense in accidents. He will likely not be known for his years-long battle against light rail and the CRC and those who would ram it down our throats at our expense. He will likely not be remembered for his brilliant work in securing the SEH American expansion for Camas.

Unfortunately, his public legacy is going to be that Rivers did not vote for him for caucus chair and that something within him snapped when that happened... and he’s made it his mission to destroy her politically. And failed. Badly.

Political destruction of Sen. Rivers was the mission. No matter who else got hurt, no matter what else doesn’t get done, no matter how badly the people of Southwest Washington suffer as a result.

Or in the alternative, he can get some help for his rage issues and work at a genuine rapprochement with Rivers and his now damaged caucus relationships in a sincere and genuine effort to put this sorry episode behind him… And more importantly, behind us.

It will not be easy for him. But it is his duty to make the attempt.

The ball has now been firmly knocked back into Sen. Benton’s court. I wish I could say that what happens next is anyone’s guess. But I don’t think it’s a guess.

Clearly, Sen. Benton is far too emotionally invested in this outcome to take the appropriate and necessary steps to have even a hope of beginning to rebuild his political imagery or to restore his relationship with his colleagues. But this amounts to his political end.

Imagine if you will, what his political enemies generally and the left particularly would do to him over this were he’d ever even remotely think about running for reelection.

Were I he, I would hold a press conference tomorrow. I would genuinely apologize to the people of Southwest Washington, the 17th district, his campaign workers and volunteers and the other members of the majority coalition caucus. I would immediately resign as Deputy Majority Leader, since it is clear that he hates MCC leadership and, therefore, cannot be an effective part of that team.  Next, I would announce my resignation from the senate effective one week after sine die (Adjournment) in this, the short session.

Whether he would justify the resignation by virtue of the fact that he has come to understand that he has acted in error for the better part of the last year in this matter, or as a result of coming to face the political reality that he himself built which now confronts him is up to him.

Sen. Benton will be fully vested in the retirement having served this community since 1995 when he was sworn in as a state representative which started a mostly effective, but combative career.  There is no reason for him to stay.

And after all this, how can he?

Sometimes, combat is necessary. Necessary or no, both in foreign policy and in the Senate with your colleagues, combat should only be the LAST resort, with clearly defined and attainable goals. But all too frequently, as in this situation, it is used as the first resort. And this, “we had to destroy the village to save it” attitude is what’s led us here to this point today.

None of this was necessary. None of it was needed. None of it accomplished anything positive. At some point, the political cost for Sen. Benton and his acolytes will simply become too much. The lack of effectiveness in the caucus, the impacts on his effectiveness on the job down here in Clark County, the cacophony of anger directed not at Sen. Rivers but at Sen. Benton for his actions in this matter… All of these combine to end a strong career of service to the people on a particularly confusing and sour note.

And for that, I am sorry. He needed to be more like Al Bauer as a person, and less like Benton as a politician.

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