Pam Roach says she has highly placed enemies

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Pam Roach during a recent committee hearing

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, says that the Republican caucus leaders want to get her out of the Washington Senate.

Talking to reporters Tuesday, she also claimed Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, a Democrat, has a vendetta against her because she replaced his friend, Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, as president pro tempore of the Senate.

"My enemies are in very high places and for the most part in my own party. ... I've been the most unfairly treated senator in state history," Roach said. She added, "These are people who don't like strong women, and I am one."

Her remarks followed a reprimand from the lieutenant governor, the latest in a long series of controversies about her conduct. On Friday, Owen, as president of the Senate, sent a letter of reprimand to Roach for a series of behavioral problems during the past month, with the final spark being a Feb. 5 hearing in front of the Senate Government Operations & Security Committee. Roach is the committee's chair.

At that hearing, Roach appeared hostile toward representatives of the Washington Food Industry Association, which was testifying in favor of a bill to more strictly regulate initiative signature gatherers. The association donated $1,150 to Republican candidate Cathy Dahlquist in her unsuccessful attempt to unseat Roach in 2014. Roach looked at hearing witness Jan Gee, representing the Washington Food Industry Association, and told her: "You need to know where your money is going. You know what? I won."

The following day, Gee wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Washington Senate to protest Roach's behavior. "Not only did we feel intimidated by her inference that we must 'pay to play,' but these private business members were visibly shaken with a process that was far beyond their understanding on how the Legislature operates," Gee wrote. She added that Roach's remarks "felt very much like retribution on me and WFIA for their political action committee activities."

Roach painted a very different picture Tuesday.

Roach said she did not give the signature-gathering bill any hearing in 2014, angering the food association. Roach claimed her remark on Feb. 5 about winning the election was really a way of telling the food association that she was being extra fair in providing a hearing this year on a bill she opposed, despite the association's election donation to her opponent. "I think that was a great statement of my willingness to work with a bill that I didn't like," Roach said.

In his Friday letter, Owen cited a long list of Roach's behavioral problems with staff members and fellow senators dating back to 1999, saying, "Sixteen years of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct is enough." Referring to the Feb. 5 committee hearing, he wrote, "we have never seen such a raw and public display of connecting campaign contributions to legislative action."

"Your abusive behavior must stop. Further violations will not be tolerated," Owen wrote. His letter also noted recent incidents of Roach interrupting people testifying before her committee and cutting off senators on the committee trying to speak.

On Tuesday, Owen said decisions about how to handle any future incidents would only be made after he consults with the Senate's GOP and Democratic caucus leaders. Potential punishments could be another letter of reprimand, or the full Senate stripping her of her committee chair position, which would take a simple majority of the 49-member body to do. And in the most extreme case,  a two-thirds majority would be required to expel her from the Senate.

No Washington senator has ever been expelled. The Washington House expelled three members in the 1890s and in 1915 for reasons relating to their elections. The House also expelled a fourth member in 1933 after the representative had been convicted of a sexual offense.

Roach contended Owen's letter is the latest volley from insecure male Senate leaders who want to get rid of her, suggesting that they could already be considering expelling her from the Senate. Roach specifically mentioned Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and former majority leader Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, as people who oppose her. Roach and Hewitt feuded within their caucus up to 2012, which spilled over into the public at times. Hewitt stepped down from all leadership roles for health reasons in late 2012.

Schoesler declined to be interviewed Tuesday. Owen said he has not heard anything about expelling Roach from the Senate.

The Republican caucus expelled her in 2010 because she had verbally abused Senate staff members. That sanction included losing her privileges to work directly with Senate staff members. But in December 2012, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, Sheldon 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 chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee and welcomed her back to the Republican caucus, which became the Majority Coalition Caucus.

In her 2014 re-election campaign, 20 of her 23 fellow Republican senators endorsed Roach. The three GOP senators not endorsing Roach were Hewitt, Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside and Sen. Mike Padden of Spokane Valley -- all staunch conservatives, as is Roach. "They can endorse you. But behind the scenes, they can do with you what they will," Roach grumbled.

This past January, Roach and Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, joined 23 minority Democrats to unseat Sheldon 25-24 as president pro tempore of the Senate. That post supervises the Senate floor action when Owen is not doing so. The president pro tempore is a member of the Senate Rules Committee, which controls the flow of bills to the full Senate for floor votes.

The minority Democrats' apparent motive was to punish Sheldon for helping create the majority coalition and to create mischief within the GOP ranks. Observers also noted that the vote let Roach and Benton signal to their own caucus that their support could not always be taken for granted. Meanwhile, majority coalition leaders increased the number of senators on the rules committee, which could nullify the effect of any votes in which Roach departed from the party line on that committee.

Roach charged that Owen's letter was partly sparked by his personal friendship with Sheldon and bitterness at Sheldon being unseated by Roach. Owen acknowledged that he is good friends with Sheldon, but denied Sheldon's defeat had anything to do with his letter to Roach.

In his Friday letter, Owen also told Roach that she gave conflicting directions and made unreasonable demands on government operations committee staff members during its meetings. On Tuesday, Owen said she appears to pick on one committee staff member during some meetings.

Owen ordered that committee vice chairman Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, must be with Roach whenever she meets with the non-partisan committee staff.

Roach said she gets along with the non-partisan government operations committee staff "just fine. ...I've seen no accusations."


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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