Benham back with bid for civics lessons

This story was published 1/8/03

By Chris Mulick
Tri-City Herald Olympia Bureau

The silent partner in several of Washington's initiative campaigns is back.

Monte Benham, the Kennewick retiree who helped build Tim Eyman's initiative empire before their falling out over Eyman's improper use of donated money, now is pressing for teaching more civics in schools.

He's endured a bout with colon cancer, the death of his wife and Eyman's betrayal, all of which limited his activity.

And like last year, Benham has enlisted state Rep. Jerome Delvin to propose legislation requiring the teaching of the state and federal constitutions, the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, George Washington's farewell address and Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address.

Further, the bill would require the material to be included in state standardized tests. A similar measure did well just to get a hearing last year.

"I don't know if I'll even be able to get a hearing on it this time," conceded Delvin, R-Richland. "Maybe if more lobbying is done, it'll generate more interest."

That's precisely what Benham has in mind. He's planning an aggressive campaign involving mailings and phone calls to legislators. He hopes to raise as much as $300,000. He still has names of 24,000 supporters from prior initiative campaigns.

Much of the money could be used for a fallback plan. If the Legislature does not approve Benham's bill, he plans to collect signatures to send it to lawmakers as an initiative. That would give lawmakers the option of sending it to voters or enacting it outright.

"We intend to very aggressively lobby for it," Benham said. "If the Legislature doesn't address it this time, they'll have to address it next time."

The Legislature convenes Monday for a 105-day session.

Also enlisting this year is Pasco City Councilman Tom Larsen, a Benham supporter who helped collect signatures for the car-tab cutting Initiative 695.

"I think he's a man of great character and his cause is great," Larsen said.

Though Benham organized much of the grunt work for recent tax-cutting and tax-limiting initiatives, his true passion has been requiring more civics teaching in schools. Eyman's desire to keep the focus on taxes helped fuel Benham's decision to leave the group two months ago.

He believes not enough students know where their freedoms come from.

"That's a very fundamental question our citizens ought to be able to answer," Benham said.

Benham does not have a name for his new organization just yet but plans on filing paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission within a couple of weeks.


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