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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Benton’s number comes up, he’s now head of the draft

The United States hasn’t had a draft for more than 40 years, but still has an agency that would get one up and running again, should the need arise.

The Selective Service System is on standby,with young men registering at age 18 on the off chance the nation finds itself in a situation where they must report for military duty. It’s possible young women could be called up, too. Congress sort of included them in legislation last year, but left the final decision up to the president, who appoints someone to run the SSS.

While it’s not the juiciest plum in the giant basket of political appointments, it’s probably not a bad job these days. Steady paycheck, mostly inside work, no heavy lifting, as they say.

That plum was given last week to Don Benton, a former state senator, former state Republican Party chairman and former state campaign chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

Benton received a slightly smaller, temporary bit of political patronage a few months ago, as liaison between Trump and the Environmental Protection Agency, which the president is intent on upending. He seemed a good choice for that, considering his record in the Legislature is replete with efforts to throw parliamentary monkey wrenches into bills he did not like. The Senate is a quieter place this year for Benton’s absence, which is not quite the same as saying he is sorely missed.

For longtime fans of TVW broadcasts of Senate action through last year, Benton was the one who looked a bit like Uncle Pennybags, the mustachioed cartoon character on the Chance and Community Chest cards for Monopoly, minus the top hat and cane.

In what has surprised almost no one in this Washington, Benton apparently was a bit too disruptive at EPA. The Washington Post reported he was driving agency boss Scott Pruitt “batty” and what Trump likes to call the “failing New York Times” opined he should stick around to keep the president from doing too much environmental damage too quickly.

That may have prompted the Trump administration to find another spot for him. Not too good of a spot, considering the president lost the state by 16 percentage points after vowing to turn it from blue to red, or at least purple. The folks who dole patronage looked around, and apparently landed rather quickly on the SSS.

Why might one think quickly? Because the White House press release scribes apparently didn’t have time to rewrite completely the announcement of the appointment. It goes into detail on Benton’s history as an entrepreneur who “started his first company when he was 17, and has built and sold several companies since.” It fluffs his environmental resume by saying he was “director of Clark County Environmental Services Department … reduced the cost or removing hazardous waste from the waste stream … certifying more Green Schools than any other county.”

It’s silent on qualifications for running a draft, unless some future draft is going to be run like a business and sell deferments, or perhaps issue draft cards on recycled paper that doesn’t pollute when burned.

The appointment outraged some military experts, according to the Huffington Post, because Benton never served in the military. While that may be unprecedented, a bigger objection to the appointment should be that Benton has never been subject to the draft.

He’s several years too young to know the feeling of waiting to see if your number is drawn, then trying to determine whether it’s so low you are “draft bait” or so high it’s safe to pay next semester’s tuition. Nor would he know from experience the ins and outs of qualifying for a deferment.

On the latter point, he could always check with his boss, who managed to get four while in college, followed by a medical deferment for bone spurs in his heels.

Having survived a lottery, I can suggest that holding one should be pretty simple: Send a minion to buy 730 ping pong balls, a pack of sharpies and a big desk calendar. Have the minion number half the balls 1 through 365 and put them in a big box. Put dates from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 on the remaining balls and put them in another box. Shake both boxes well. Tie a blindfold around two other minions, making one draw a number and the other draw a date, then write down the numbers on the days of desk calendar as they are announced until the boxes are out of balls.

Benton could then deliver the news to all the young men, and possibly young women, whose lives are about to change, maybe with a Chance card that telling them to go directly to the military processing station, without passing Go or collecting $200.

In case you didn’t know

In the Legislature, odd stuff sometimes just comes up. Take last week, when the Senate was voting on a proposal to regulate how vapor products are displayed.

In describing a “technical” cleanup – code words for boring – Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said it would make clear that cigars are not included in recent restrictions for displaying vapor products. Which prompted him to explain that the origins of the cigar are unknown, but a ceramic pot found in Guatemala shows a Mayan smoking tobacco. And the Mayan word sikar may be the origin of the word cigar.

That’s fine, said Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, but the bill is about vaping. “I don’t know of any Mayan pots with vapor products.”