Pam Roach and Matt Richardson: 2 stained reputations in 31st District race
JORDAN SCHRADER; Staff writer
The two candidates seeking a state Senate seat in the 31st Legislative District are both Republicans. They have something else in common.
Both say the stains on their reputations are the work of political opponents trying to discredit them.
Sen. Pam Roach, a veteran legislator from Auburn, says fellow senators have made her look bad in the media as part of an effort to “crush” her. Matt Richardson, a Sumner city councilman, compares his treatment by Roach supporters, in the news media and at council meetings, to the Salem witch trials.
More than any issue, it’s the character and personality of the candidates that will decide this race Nov. 2.
While the circumstances of Richardson’s past started emerging only in the past few months, Roach has for years been known, even outside her district, for a hot temper, a passion for her causes and little concern about how her colleagues in Olympia feel about either.
She says she’s just refused to go with the flow. In a television commercial, she says: “They’ve told me ‘Pam, you’re rubbing the fur the wrong way.’ My response is: ‘Well then, turn the cat around.’”
In a Senate career dating to 1991, Roach has been admonished by leadership of the Senate or her Republican caucus on five occasions for what they deemed hostile treatment of staff members.
Since winning her most recent term in 2006, Roach has had her warnings turned into sanctions. Republicans prohibited Roach from speaking directly with their staffs starting in 2008, requiring communication to go through her assistant. This year, after Roach had a dustup with a staffer in the caucus room where Republicans meet privately, Senate leaders limited her direct contact with nonpartisan staff, and Republicans barred her from their caucuses.
GOP leaders urged her to attend counseling and wrote that she has “demonstrated an ongoing pattern of treating your co-workers and employees with hostility and anger.”
Roach said it’s retribution for arguments dating back years with Republican leadership, particularly Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt.
The sanctions impede her ability to represent the district, Richardson said. “She certainly doesn’t have any credibility to propose bills or get amendments,” he said.
Roach said the changes haven’t affected her work, because she didn’t use caucus staff much and saw the plan of attack drawn up in GOP meetings as too timid.
“I would say in caucus: ‘Let’s just show them, let’s give the people of the state reason to want to support Republicans,’” Roach said. “I’ve been around 20 years, and you need to stand up and fight.”
Richardson too has had run-ins with co-workers.
He has left two teaching jobs after administrators accused him of inappropriate classroom behavior, which he has denied.
The Sumner School District dismissed him as a substitute teacher in 2004 after he rode a disabled Sumner High School teacher’s mobility scooter. It offended the absent teacher, but Richardson said he was just moving the scooter out of the way.
Two years later, he resigned after Federal Way Public Schools reprimanded him for creating what administrators called a hostile learning environment at Sequoyah Middle School. Richardson said students made up the accusations that he threatened them, failed to stop a boy from grabbing a girl, and looked at female students’ bodies in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
Richardson now works at Wa He Lut Indian School, where he is on paid leave for reasons the school won’t disclose. Richardson said he took the time off to run his campaign.
But Richardson has drawn the most scrutiny during the campaign for much older events.
ALLEGATIONS FROM THE PAST
Until recently, no conceivable cause could have brought this group of people together in a room.
Joining Roach at a Seattle television station last week were Yvonne Ward, a Democrat who twice lost to Roach in vicious campaigns, and a family from Eastern Washington, who a few months ago had no interest in the politics of a district straddling Pierce and King counties.
But all have a similar goal now: Prevent Richardson from being elected.
The family was there to talk to reporters about criminal charges brought in 1993 against their relative, Richardson, for crimes he had allegedly committed more than a decade earlier as a teenager.
Richardson, 44, now maintains he is innocent.
Here’s what can be determined from the court documents:
Prosecutors charged Richardson with statutory rape. They said they believed allegations by two of his cousins that he had molested them when he was 16 and they were ages 5 and 7. His mother baby-sat the girls at her home in Kent.
Richardson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of communication with a minor for immoral purpose, a misdemeanor. In what is called an Alford plea, Richardson maintained his innocence but acknowledged he’d likely be found guilty at trial. He said in a statement that he and one of the two girls did nothing more than “play doctor.” A judge sentenced him Oct. 15, 1993, to perform community service.
Just four months later, the charges were dismissed. Richardson had completed his sentence and therefore was eligible to withdraw the plea, according to Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Richardson declined to talk in detail to The News Tribune about the case but said he entered the plea only as a legal strategy.
“I wanted to defuse the situation and get to the next hearing – a hearing that I knew I was going to be exonerated in,” he said. He also released a statement (see box with this story).
In an interview broadcast by KING-5 TV, Richardson said his uncle and aunt, John and Suzanne Thompson, had coached the girls to have false memories of long-ago childhood events, motivated by a decision by family members to write them out of a will.
John Thompson said he wasn’t cut out of his mother’s will until years after the court case, and wasn’t removed at all from the will for his father, who died around the time of the case.
His daughter Shelly, now 34, maintains the version of events she says she has told since coming forward at age 5. Her parents said their relatives convinced them at the time, to their later regret, that the incidents should be handled within the family.
“I know that my memory is crystal clear,” she said.
Eight years after the dismissal, the court record was vacated, allowing Richardson to legally state he had never been convicted of an offense. The case records were then sealed from public view. The News Tribune has obtained portions of the court record provided by the Thompson family and the court orders dismissing, vacating and sealing the file from Richardson.
RECORDS AND ISSUES
Since his election to the Sumner City Council in 2003, Richardson has pushed to require city contractors to check the citizenship of their workers, supported a lewd-conduct ordinance aimed at bikini baristas who show too much skin, and opposed a multilevel parking garage downtown for Sound Transit’s commuter train station.
After an early grounding in government as an aide in the Legislature, Richardson said he’s prepared to go to Olympia.
He said he would push in the Legislature for a new budgeting system that would give state agencies a percentage of their budgets to cut, rather than killing off whole programs and preserving others. “The Legislature would get out of the business of being the meat cleavers,” he said.
When the two candidates talk about issues, there’s little daylight between them.
Roach has been a loud voice for gun rights and against taxes. This year she organized opposition to a proposed assault weapons ban that died in committee and decried Democrats’ successful suspension of voter-approved Initiative 960, with its requirement for a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
Yet she is also a favorite of public employee unions, which join gun rights groups and energy companies among her largest campaign contributors. Roach fought the proposed closure of Rainier School, an idea that opponents ended up keeping out of the budget. Now, to help keep it open, she’s trying to negotiate other uses of the residential facility for the developmentally disabled.
One of Roach’s regular targets is the state Children’s Administration agency, which she lambastes on her blog over handling of child custody. She helped Doug and Anne-Marie Stuth of Enumclaw as they fought in court and eventually won custody of their granddaughter.
The Stuths said Roach is accessible to constituents and dogged on their behalf. To be with them at one court date, they said, Roach interrupted a vacation out of state to fly back to Seattle.
“Things that other people say about her, I have a hard time believing any of it. We’ve never seen that side of her,” Anne-Marie Stuth said.
IT’S A ROUGH CAMPAIGN
Despite the ties he’s made in government and as a political consultant, Richardson hasn’t drawn endorsements from politicians or organizations. The two endorsers he’s touted prominently have withdrawn their support. Roach has a long list of endorsements from interest groups and local government officials.
Richardson attributes the gap to the same reason he didn’t want to put a reporter in touch with his supporters: people’s fear of retribution by Roach. “If you don’t come through with her when she needs you to, she’ll kill everything that comes through her committee
or any other way she can hurt you,” Richardson said.
A similar gap exists in fundraising. Roach has raised $119,000, while most of the $28,000 Richardson has reported to the state came out of his own pocket.
For both, it was enough to defeat two Democrats in the Aug. 17 primary election.
The campaign has been nasty, before and after the primary. Richardson, like the Democrats, started off his campaign by criticizing Roach for her disciplinary record. Roach sued to change Richardson’s official statement in the state voter guide, saying it misrepresented the sanctions against her, and she won.
A former aide to Roach, Chris Clifford, filed a complaint against Richardson with the state Auditor’s Office over messages he exchanged with a city volunteer that he said were an inappropriate use of Sumner city e-mail. Then Clifford created a website calling for Richardson’s resignation and airing documents, news reports, allegations and rumors about him.
Richardson has demanded the website be taken down, to no avail. It’s updated regularly and has had plenty of fodder, such as the ticket Richardson received in August for speeding and reckless driving. Clocked at 77 in a 35 mph zone along Puyallup’s South Meridian, he said he was rushing to see his son in the hospital.
Another attack has come from a trio of Democrats reluctantly supporting Roach, including Ward, Karen Willard and state Rep. Christopher Hurst.
Citing his criminal case and classroom incidents, they said in a news release that if Richardson is elected, “the safety of children would be at risk” when kids visit or work at the Legislative Building.
Roach defends the focus on Richardson’s past, saying he started the attacks.
“The challenger picked the ground for the battle, and he picked integrity,” she said. “And he couldn’t win that battle.”
Richardson offers an explanation for each incident. He acknowledges, though, that he might change some things if he could.
“I am not a perfect person, but I have learned from the circumstances around some of the things that have been questionable,” he said, “and I can tell you there are mistakes that will never again be made in my life.”
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826
31ST LEGISLATIVE DISTRICT, SENATE
Civic experience: Councilmember, 2004-present; deputy mayor 2006; vice-chairman Pierce County Regional Council 2006-2010; certified teacher, Wa He Lut Indian School 2007-present; professor of government, sociology, philosophy, U.S. Navy NCPACE 2006-present; congressional staff (Rick White WA-01) 1996-1998; research analyst – state House; legislative aide, state Senate 1994-1996; chairman, Pierce County River Revitalization Task Force 2009; co-chairman Puyallup River Task Force 2008; policy advisor, Washington State Legislative Task Force for Rivers 2010; vice president, South Sound Ronald Reagan Republican Club 2005-2010.
Education: Associate of Arts – history, Highline C.C. 1987; Bachelor of Arts - international studies/Russian-East European/Russian language minor, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, 1990; Master of Arts – public policy/American political philosophy, University of Washington Tacoma, 2003; Washington teaching certificate – Saint Martin’s University, endorsed in humanities, math/science, history, English and English as second language, 2004; certificate municipal leadership – Association of Washington Cities, 2009.
Occupation: State senator.
Civic experience: Lake Tapps Task Force founding member, 2001-10; Save Rainier School, Ad Hoc Committee chairwoman, present; chaired successful “No on Unhealthy Taxes” campaign saving millions in property taxes, ’06; Sentencing Guidelines Commission, 1998-present; Senate Judiciary Committee, chairwoman, ’97-98; Senate Government and Elections Committee, chairwoman, ’01-02; Auburn Food Bank board member, ’98-03; Joint Select Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, ex. board; founder of “School of Hope,” serving Honduran children, ’02-present; member of Auburn, Bonney Lake, Buckley and Enumclaw Chambers of Commerce.
Education: B.A., history, Brigham Young University, 1970; post-grad teaching certificate; graduate courses in U.S. history; self-funded trade mission to China, South Korea and Thailand to study Northwest trade opportunities.