If former Benton County Commissioner Claude Oliver wants to defend his taxpayer-funded trip to Chicago, he ought to find a less offensive way to do it.
His ugly rant against his critics is not only unconvincing, but it's also petty.
The unsubstantiated charges of racism Oliver has leveled against the commissioners he used to serve with only makes him look small.
What's worse, the continuing outburst detracts from the contribution to good causes in the Mid-Columbia that Oliver could be making.
He's on the right side on two important issues -- improving the quality of mental health care in the Mid-Columbia and ensuring the nation has a secure source of medical isotopes to fight cancer and other diseases.
But it's not clear how he can remain an effective advocate for any issue while needlessly alienating people with the power to help.
That's a shame.
The irony is that this controversy over Oliver's county-financed trip to the 2008 RainbowPUSH Coalition Conference in Chicago would blow over a lot sooner if Oliver weren't adding fuel to the fire.
This whole sorry episode was sparked by comments in a state audit of Benton County's 2008 expenses, but the questions raised were hardly damning.
The document states that the $2,123 the county spent on the trip "appeared to have no clear county purpose and no clear majority of commissioner approval was gained."
Herald reporter Drew Foster's article on the audit in Tuesday's Herald included quotes from Commissioners Max Benitz and Leo Bowman criticizing the trip.
Oliver has some ready answers about why his former colleagues -- and the audit -- are wrong about the trip's value to Benton County.
It's certainly reasonable to argue that Oliver's association with the Rev. Jesse Jackson's organization has helped keep Benton County at the forefront of national discussions on medical isotope production.
It's also reasonable to say, given the potential economic impact of that emerging industry, the value ought to be obvious.
If he'd stopped there, a lot of people would agree.
But Oliver abandoned reason when he attacked the character of his critics, not only in remarks made to the Herald but also in widely circulated e-mails.
Opposition to the trip by his fellow commissioners was "racially motivated," Oliver wrote. It's an ugly allegation built on a flimsy assumption.
"So how long does this barnyard bull 'racial card' panderings from Benton commissioners go on and the TCH only watches?" Oliver asked in one e-mail.
In a note to Herald publisher Rufus M. Friday, he wrote, "Surely as a black publisher having come up through the ranks you understand what I'm saying."
Oliver ought to be ashamed of himself, and he ought to know better than to expect the Herald's editorial board to sympathize with his attacks on the character of his fellow commissioners.
Suggesting that Friday's skin color ought to make him an ally doesn't help his case. It is as presumptuous and offensive as Oliver's other attempts to inject race into this otherwise minor flap.
Racism is a serious charge, and to make it without presenting convincing evidence is reckless and wrong.
We witnessed similar behavior from Oliver a few years ago, when he relied on innuendo to cast aspersions on the integrity of Tri-Citians who were ready to give up the fight to restart the Fast Flux Test Facility.
Opposing that view was fine. Hinting the motive behind that position was a desire to profit from FFTF's demolition -- as Oliver did -- was irresponsible.
Oliver's nebulous attacks on the motives of those he disagrees with undermine his credibility. He needs to stop before he forfeits any relevancy he has left.