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Intra-Party GOP Tiff Aired in Washington State Legislature
In Sarcastic, Widely-Distributed Email, House Deputy Republican Leader Rebuffs Prominent State Senate Republican for Letter Criticizing Votes

February 28, 2014

The Republican Party's intra-party battles are not confined to Washington, DC.

In the other Washington -- the state, that is -- GOP disagreement over a bill regulating signature-gathering for initiatives has sparked a sharp exchange among prominent legislators.

And their comments -- written in emails -- have been forwarded all over the Capitol Campus in Olympia in recent days.

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, was furious with 14 House Republicans for joining the Democratic majority to pass HB 2552 in the House; the measure sets new petition guidelines for initiatives, referenda, and recall petitions. The bill requires paid signature gatherers to register with the secretary of state. Republicans who backed it cited support from some business groups; they reported occasional problems with signature gatherers in front of their stores.

Benton wrote the following in an email to 14 House Republicans: "I did my due diligence and checked and confirmed that you did, in fact, vote for HB 2552 and I was completely surprised to see your name on the list. Republicans in the Legislature have diligently defended the initiative process from legislative assault by Democrats going back as far as 2003. . . .

"HB 2552 is one of the most oppressive Big Government anti-initiative bills they've ever tried. And you voted for it! Even the ACLU opposes it. Remember the words of the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, 'and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. . . .'


"Don Benton
"Deputy Majority Leader
"Washington State Senate Republican Caucus

Meanwhile, Washington initiative activist Tim Eyman stoked grassroots ire about the bill across the state. Eyman has repeatedly called on activists to contact the 14 Republicans addressed in Benton's email.

House Deputy Minority Leader Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, responded to Benton with an email of his own:

"Senator Benton, I wanted to alert you that someone may have hacked your online account and sent the below-attached message from your e-mail address! I think this because there is no way that you, a fine gentleman who:

* voted to enact collective bargaining for state employees in 2002;

* voted to authorize collective bargaining for WSU employees in 2008;

* voted multiple times with the union positions on on industrial insurance and apprentice programs in 2008 and 2009

* voted to enact the Democratic budget in 2006;

* supported union mandates for electricians in 2012;

* voted to enact job-killing climate change and emissions laws in 2004, 2005 and 2007;

* voted for mandates requiring businesses to provide family leave in 2007; and

* as chair of the Senate's Facilities & Operations Committee has continued to hold closed-door meetings from the press and public are excluded,

"--could possibly be chastising other elected officials for voting the 'wrong' way on a bill. We all know the high ethical standards to which you hold yourself, so there is no way I can believe that you -- who has so often crossed his own caucus and voted for Democratic bills for what some uncharitable observers might say were self-serving reasons -- would be so shameless as to try and take to task fellow elected officials who you judge 'guilty' of the same party-crossing conduct for which you are so rightly famous.

"Obviously, this cannot be the real Don Benton, who we know to be a principled civic leader who, like the elected officials castigated in the e-mail, votes his conscience and seeks to do what is best for his constituents and the people of our great state. . .

"Moreover, this same e-mail supposedly from you also includes a fundraising appeal, which is a violation of our ethics and campaign laws and the 'freeze' on fundraising which applies to all of us during the legislative session. There is no way that the paragon of ethics that is the real Senator Benton would ever have inadvertently sent such a solicitation using his state e-mail, of course. . .

"And, of course, it goes without saying that all of us strongly support the initiative process and the people's right to be involved with that process and active in their government.

"Please take steps to secure your account to ensure that no further silly attacks on colleagues purporting to be from you are made in the future.

"Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. With that, please join me in tackling the problems of our state in the remainder of the legislative session, and let there be no more sniping at one another or grandstanding for outside groups. We have better things to do with the offices with which our citizens have entrusted us.

"Best regards,

"Joel Kretz
"Deputy Republican Leader

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