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Democrats rage against the Roach restoration

But a Senate vote turns back an attempt to gain control of a committee with responsibility over personnel matters.
Pam Roach

Pam Roach

Did Washington's Senate Republicans allow a secret, arguably improper meeting that helped reinstate privileges to Sen. Pam Roach? Or are the Senate Democrats whiny crybabies because they no longer control the playpen?

Both stories emerged Wednesday during and after an unsuccessful attempt by Senate Democrats to appoint Democratic Lt. Gov. Brad Owen as chairman of the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee. The Democrats lost 25-24 along the fault line separating them from 23 Republicans and two Democrats, Sens. Rodney Tom of Medina and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, who have formally allied with the GOP.

The committee handles personnel and other internal administrative for the Senate and its staff. It has played a critical role in restoring Roach, a senator from Auburn, to the Republican Caucus, where her support was needed to give the Republicans and the two Democrats enough votes to control the Senate. The importance of the committee this year is in striking contrast with the past: Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chaired the committee years ago, calling it "simply the most boring committee to sit on in this Legislature."

Roach had lost her Republican Caucus access in 2010 because she had verbally abused Senate staff members. When Tom and the Republicans engineered their takeover of the Senate, they needed Roach as the 25th vote to control the 49-member body. They appointed Roach chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, and ensured that her access to the caucus was restored. Republicans on the Facilities and Operations Committee also started an investigation into who leaked documents to the Associated Press that outlined Roach verbally attacking a Republican staffer in March 2012.

With Tom and Sheldon forming a "Majority Caucus Coalition" with the Republicans, the Facilties and Operations Committee has four Republicans and three Democrats with Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, as the new chairman.

On Wednesday, Democratic floor leader Sen. David Frockt of Seattle complained that, in a closed session Jan. 15, the committee blocked reporters from attending and returned caucus privileges to Sen. Roach, R-Auburn, on a secret 4-3 vote. State law generally requires that government bodies conduct all votes in public, but the Legislature and its committees have generally been understood to be exempt from the requirement.

Frockt and Benton declined to discuss specific Roach-related issues raised in the closed meeting, citing confidentiality rules.

Entering Wednesday, Democrats originally sought a three-to-three split on this committee, and later suggested four Republicans and three Democrats to reflect the Republican majority. But the Democrats wanted Owen as chairman instead of Benton. Owen a conservative Democrat who presides over the Senate when it is on the floor, "calls both sides equally on their bull...," Frockt said.

Benton said about the Jan. 15 Facilities and Operations Committee meeting: "There was never a vote conducted in secret. Absolutely no. None." He said the meeting was a closed session for the committee to confer with legal counsel, and only consulting was done.

However, Frockt disagreed: "Absolutely, there was a vote taken. ... It was not done by acclamation."

Meanwhile, Benton said, "The Legislature is not subject to the Open Public Meetings Act." He added that with one exception years ago, the Facilities and Operations Committee meetings have always been closed to the public.

The Washington state Attorney General's office, headed by Democrat Bob Ferguson, agreed with Benton that the act does not apply to the Legislature and the Legislature's committees.

Murray argued that the meetings should be open: "We deserve the same level of scrutiny (as local-level governments that must comply with the open meetings act)." He also described the Republican investigation into the leak to Associated Press as "obsessive."

Benton and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said the Democrats were griping merely because they lost control of what happens in the Senate's committees, including the Facilities and Operations Committee.

"Unfortunately, our colleagues are not accepting their new role in this Senate," Rivers said.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 7:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Meanwhile, Benton said, "The Legislature is not subject to the Open Public Meetings Act."

Where's the WA Coalition for Open Government when you need them?

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 3:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I would love to express my opinions about Pam Roach. However, since she is such an evil vindictive woman, I think I will hold my tongue.

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 7:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Stang - I look forward to complimenting your Crosscut work. But that, unfortunately, will not be today. A few simple critiques that would have improved your story and your readers' understanding.
1) Headline: Dems aren't raging; they're calling the GOP liars. How about "Democrats decry dissembling," if you're stuck on using alliterative headlines...?
2) Answer the question for readers "Who is Pam Roach?" A short, bulleted list to Austin Jenkins' reporting would have helped if you weren't going to recount the investigations (plural). what you really need, however, are off-the-record sources. Get a D and an R caucus member to talk to you about Roach and guns and extramarital entanglements so you at least understand the picture. The distaste for her is not a partisan thing.
3) Answer the question for readers "Who is Don Benton?" At the very least he's the former GOP state chair who was forced out in a coup after being spendthrift and he's attached to some weird business schemes in partnership with some really icky people all of which leverage his position in the legislature -- a position he held by just 100 votes. He's also most likely Roach's closest ally and lunch buddy for two decades. Surely, you could have gotten a comment from Frockt or other D on that relationship.

Your story doesn't have to be much longer, but it deserves to be much clearer. Roach transcends the politics of that place. Just freaking ask the members and staff who there with you! Simplifying the piece (or lazy reporting) won't help Crosscut's mission.

Good luck

Posted Sat, Jan 26, 4:02 a.m. Inappropriate

The Roach Restoration would be a great name for a band. Rodny Tom needs to be out of office.

jhande

Posted Sat, Jan 26, 2:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Many thanks to dericjones for his very direct and cogent criticism of the artice and of what's going on in Olympia. I am weary of the need of so many journalists to act "non-partisan" and always pretend that both sides are to blame for every problem. The "redemption" of Roach and the power given to her and her buddy Benton is strictly the fault of the GOPs and their two turn-coat allies in the Senate. This situation is another reminder of the dangers of always trying to vote in a "non-partisan" manner. I'm sure a lot of independents and Democrats who voted for Steve Litzow wish they had not...his re-election is just as much to blame for this sorry mess as was Benton's 100-vote squeaker.

TaylorB1

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