A Washington state Republican lawmaker says he is headed to D.C. to serve on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team.
It’s the latest twist in Don Benton’s long political career. Benton is retiring from the Washington State Senate later this month after more than two decades serving in the legislature. He represents parts of Vancouver and Clark County.
Like President-elect Trump, Benton is a polarizing figure.
He is known in the legislature for his passionate advocacy for his constituents, in particular veterans, and for his bullying of a fellow Republican lawmaker after she didn’t support his bid for Republican caucus chair.
Benton initially managed Trump’s campaign in Washington. After the Republican National Convention, he was tapped to run the campaign in six states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii.
Trump won three of those. Benton, a Washington Republican, says Trump was pleased with how much he accomplished on a limited budget.
“Over the campaign period, the President-elect and I developed a very good relationship. He trusts me. I trust him,” he said.
Back in June, the D.C. political newspaper and website The Hill called Benton someone who had the candidate’s ear “to an unusual degree,” and listed him as a key influence alongside better known campaign insiders like Jeff Sessions and Paul Manafort.
Benton says the transition team asked him not to discuss the details of his new assignment, but said that it will likely last for several months.
“And I said, well I’m having a retirement party, can I tell them anything? They said ‘Certainly. You can tell them that you’ve been asked to assist the transition team and that you accepted. Period,’” he said.
In Oregon and Washington, Benton is known for his staunch opposition to light rail and a proposed new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River.
Some northwest politicians have speculated that a Trump administration might be interested in funding the bridge. Trump has talked about making new investments in infrastructure.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told The Columbian newspaper’s editorial board that Benton’s retirement from state government is “encouraging news” for those who hope to replace the bridge.
Benton calls the project a boondoggle and says he doubts the President-elect will be interested in wasting money on it.
“There won’t be any version of that project moving forward,” he said.