Pam Roach and her challenger share a party and a distaste for one another

Primary preview: Rep. Cathy Dahlquist is trying to unseat the longest serving member of the state Senate.
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The 31st Legislative District. (Click to enlarge.)

Primary preview: Rep. Cathy Dahlquist is trying to unseat the longest serving member of the state Senate.

Let's acknowledge the elephant in the room: Pam Roach and Cathy Dahlquist really don't like each other.

"She is very narcissistic," Roach said of Dahlquist. Dahlquist says, "She threatens. She bullies people." 

Both are outspoken conservative Republicans. But a good way to tell them apart is 31st District Rep. Chris Hurst, a conservative Democrat from Enumclaw.

Dahlquist, a GOP state representative also from Enumclaw, may disagree with Hurst on many issues, but the two get along and frequently cooperate in the Legislature. Hurst is supporting Dahlquist's bid to unseat Roach, who has been the 31st District's state senator since 1990. Meanwhile, Roach portrays Dahlquist's friendship with Hurst as a sign that Dahlquist's conservative credentials are shaky.

The 31st District stretches east from Auburn into the Cascade Mountains. The Aug. 5 primary and November's final elections are essentially the 31st District's voters' referendum on Roach.

Do they think of Roach as a feisty independent? Or is she an out-of-control, loose cannon?

Years ago, Roach feuded with then-Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, to the extent they despised each other. The Republican caucus expelled her in 2010 because she had verbally abused Senate staff members. That sanction included losing her privileges in working directly with Senate staff members. But in December 2012, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, and 23 Republicans combined forces to take over the 49-member Senate. They needed Roach as the 25th vote to take control from Democrats. So they appointed Roach as chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee and welcomed her back to the Republican caucus, which essentially became the Majority Coalition Caucus.

Roach's combative personality and track record of sparking internal strife are major reasons why Dahlquist is running against her. Dahlquist preaches cooperating with Democrats sometimes in order to get things done. Roach preaches sticking to the hard right, come hell or high water.

Their battle has so much taken center stage in the 31st Senate race that two obscure, token Democratic candidates are seen as pawns in the top-two primary fight between Roach and Dahlquist. Democratic unknown Lane Walthers signed up as a 31st District senate candidate, and then withdrew right after the filing period closed in May.

Roach has accused Hurst and Walther of using his potential candidacy as an aborted ploy to draw votes from her. Both denied that charge. Lynda Messner of Bonney Lake is running in the primary as a Democrat despite her strong feelings that Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are leftist scourges. Hurst and Dahlquist believe Messner is a Roach ploy to draw Democrats away from voting for Dahlquist and eliminate Dahlquist from the November ballot with a third-place finish on Aug. 5. Messner and Roach have denied that charge.

The Messner-as-vote-siphoner dispute is still alive, however.

In an email late last week, Hurst wrote: "Jim Roach, Pam’s husband, was seen last Saturday morning with a truckload of Messner and Roach signs and was watched putting up Messner and then Roach signs. That should pretty much clear up the Messner-Roach connection.  Messner, who has reported no campaign income, not a single dollar, now has hundreds of campaign signs out, put up by Roach."

Roach responded to the allegation on Sunday: "My husband had nothing to do with putting up signs for Messner."

A recent check of Washington Public Disclosure Commission records showed Messner with no campaign donations. Meanwhile, Roach had raised $111,570, and Dahlquist had collected $51,207, according to the PDC.

Dahlquist, 53, is co-owner of an architectural company and a former school board member. The 31st District elected her to the House with 53 percent of the votes in 2010 and with 63 percent in 2012. She is a minority caucus member of the House Rules Committee, which controls the flow of bills on the House floor, and the House Technology and Economic Development Committee.

In 2103 and 2014, Dahlquist introduced 15 bills with the biggest percentage addressing education. She got six bills through the House, and three of those passed the Senate to become laws. As a rule of thumb, the majority of all bills introduced in the Senate and House never get out of their originating chamber for a wide variety of reasons. Dahlquist had the most success getting a bill through the House with Hurst as a co-sponsor. Dahlquist's Web site does not list endorsements but she and Hurst have jointly campaigned this year.

Roach, 66, was a weekend radio host and a legislative aide before becoming a state senator in 1990. She chairs the Government Operations Committee, and belongs to the Financial Institutions Committee. Roach's website lists several police and labor unions as endorsers plus U.S. Rep. David Reichert, R-Auburn, and 20 of her 23 fellow Republican senators. The three GOP senators not endorsing Roach are Hewitt, Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside and Sen. Mike Padden of Spokane Valley.

In 2013 and 2014, Roach introduced 86 bills. Twenty passed the Senate, and 12 survived the House to become law. Roach's bill-writing interests include children, parents and local government issues. 

Whoever wins in November will face decisions about a deadlock between Democrats and Republicans on how to deal with a 2012 Washington Supreme Court decision — the so-called McCleary ruling — to improve the student-teacher ratios in Grades K-3 plus some additional measures. The GOP is against increasing taxes and closing tax breaks to tackle those requirements, while the Democrats in Olympia support those tax-related measures. The 2015 legislative session also faces a long-term standoff over a possible $10 billion to $12 billion transportation package, which is almost guaranteed to include a gas tax increase of 10 to 12 cents a gallon. The current state gas tax is 37.5 cents a gallon.

Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to introduce some type of legislation to deal with global warming and ocean acidification in 2015. The most likely measure would be one creating limits on carbon emissions in the state, and possibly installing a cap-and-trade system. Under a cap-and-trade system, Washington would have an overall annual limit on its carbon dioxide emissions. Limits would be set for specific geographic areas. Firms would obtain rights for specific amounts of emissions in those areas and could trade their rights. 

On McCleary, Dahlquist supports the GOP's approach, which calls for the Legislature to fund education first, and then decide what to with financing or cutting other programs. She does not want to raise taxes to fund the McCleary expansion. She is not a fan of closing tax breaks, but would be willing to consider such moves if recommended by the bipartisan Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee, which reviews individual breaks to see if they should be ended or extended.

She supports the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus' call for specific budget reforms in the transportation package before passing it. She is against a 10-cents gas tax hike, which would be implemented over three years, saying the 31st District is overwhelmingly against such a move. Dahlquist said she might consider a nickel increase in the gas tax that would be imposed at a penny per year over five years.

Dahlquist opposes Inslee's likely push on carbon emissions limits and a cap-and-trade program, arguing that those moves would help drive businesses out of Washington. She also wants hydropower reclassified as a renewable energy source when the state calculates how much electricity is provided by renewable resources such as solar and wind power. Environmental groups oppose reclassifying hydropower as renewable because that would let Washington reach its current targets on boosting alternative energy sources without further development of any of the newer sources of energy. 

Roach believes the current McCleary impasse —with the Supreme Court and Democrats saying that at least $1 billion more will be needed in 2015-2017 to implement it than the Republicans think — will go away on its own, because a growing economy will send more money into the state's coffers to boost education spending and to keep social services intact. "I don't think it will be as bleak as some people think it'll be," Roach said.

She is solidly in the anti-gas-tax-hike segment of the majority coalition on the transportation package, and she supports the coalition's proposed budgetary reforms on that package.

And Roach opposes Inslee's expected push on carbon emissions, saying it will hurt the economy. She said: "He'll try to circumvent the legislative body to do what he wants to do. ... He's not reading the people well."

Unless there's a surprise in the primary, voters can expect to hear a lot more in coming months about the differences between the two.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8