Citing “hostile behavior,” state Senate Republicans have kicked Sen. Pam Roach out of their team huddle.
Roach, an Auburn resident who has represented the 31st District since 1991, no longer will get a voice or a vote in her caucus, where lawmakers of each party meet behind closed doors.
“As your fellow senators, it is difficult to be in a room with you when you erupt in anger,” Senate GOP caucus leaders said in a letter to Roach obtained by The News Tribune. “For our employees it is unacceptable.”
The rare sanction stems from an April 15, 2009, confrontation between Roach and Michael Hoover, a Senate staff lawyer who handles personnel and ethics matters. But it reflects years of conflict between Roach and other Senate Republicans.
Roach reached back to those past incidents in an interview Friday to argue that GOP leaders are persecuting her. She said she has filed requests for reconsideration of the caucus ejection and a reprimand of her by a bipartisan Senate committee that Republicans cited in their decision.
But she doesn’t mind being left out of caucus, Roach said.
“It’s not anything I’m missing at all,” she said, “and it’s kind of freedom-evoking.”
The reprimand is the fifth disciplinary action by the Senate against Roach for her treatment of staff, according to the documents associated with the investigations.
Roach has been barred from direct contact with caucus staff since 2008 for one of the incidents. In 2003 she was reprimanded and asked to seek counseling after staffers accused her of illegally obtaining employees’ e-mails, driving some to quit and brandishing a handgun at one.
GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla and caucus chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee, wrote to Roach on Jan. 20 that the most recent investigation by the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee convinced its members to bar her from caucus votes.
Parlette declined to comment to a reporter, saying she wouldn’t talk about internal caucus matters. Hewitt, who was away from Olympia for a funeral, could not be reached.
Last week, a caucus spokesman said Roach remained a member of the caucus.
According to Hoover’s account to an investigator, several senators opposed Hoover in caucus when he questioned whether it would be ethical for Sen. Janéa Holmquist to post pictures from a political rally on an official Web site. Roach went much further, Hoover reported, pointing her finger at him and telling him he didn’t do his job and was plotting against senators.
“It was like meat in front of a Rottweiler, she went crazy. She was so focused on the encounter,” one anonymous staff member is quoted as saying by the investigator, attorney Chris Farias of law firm Stokes Lawrence.
Other anonymous staff members described the verbal attack as typical. “We call it being ‘Roached,’” one said.
The confrontation resumed later on the Senate floor, Hoover told Farias. He said he thinks Roach is angry at him because she blames him in part for the 2003 investigation.
Roach told the investigator she did not remember yelling and could not have pointed her finger at Hoover because both her hands were full of M&Ms. Confronted with the anonymous accounts of staff members, she said staff are willing to bend the truth to please Senate leaders, according to Farias.
In an interview, Roach didn’t blame staff and admitted she had been angry. “I get angry when I see something ridiculous,” she said. But she later apologized to Hoover, she added.
Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver was the sole witness to defend Roach to the investigator, saying it’s just her personality to become angry and loud.
Roach filed a complaint against Hewitt last year alleging a hostile work environment. She said tensions are still high over a 2008 incident in which Hewitt bent over in front of her and flipped up his sport jacket after Roach flashed an obscene gesture at him.
“This whole thing is a string of outrageous behavior against me personally,” she said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826