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Irascible state senator turned county councilwoman to retire after 30 years in office

Pam Roach asks for microphones to be turned off at county meeting

In her first committee meeting, County Councilwoman Pam Roach has the microphones turned off, leading to three minutes of dead air.
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In her first committee meeting, County Councilwoman Pam Roach has the microphones turned off, leading to three minutes of dead air.

The Poodle Dog Diner is quiet on a Friday afternoon until Pierce County councilmember Pam Roach’s ringtone, the chorus of “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, plays.

It’s about the boat ramp she has been working on to increase recreational use on the Puyallup River. Roach, a 26-year state senator and first-term Pierce County councilmember, puts the phone on speaker, asks a question about timing, gets a response and says she’s gotta go.

Roach, among the most well-known Republicans across the state, then picks at her salad — Keto-diet approved — and tells The News Tribune she’s not seeking re-election next year.

The Republican maverick has championed low taxes, gun rights, and now innovative responses to the homelessness crisis.

Her quarter of a century at the state and three years at Pierce County have been distinguished by a sharp tongue and contention. She was once barred from her own caucus room in the legislature for berating staff, booted from a human trafficking task force for allegedly saying trafficked minors “probably spend their money on drugs,” and the FBI conducted an investigation into her fundraising and reimbursements.

Roach, 72, wants to retire from public service to spend time with her five kids,18 grandchildren and 78-year-old husband. She realizes you can’t push back the date on the inevitable, and wants to use what she has left surrounded by family, she said.

She started in 1987 as a legislative aide to state senator and King County councilmember Kent Pullen. She lost a race for a state house seat in 1988 and was voted into the senate in 1990.

Her voters in the 31st District saw her sponsor bills to help small businesses take out loans, side with ranchers to kill wolves endangering livestock and support standardized grading systems across the state. Roach repeatedly voted against LGBTQ rights and vocally opposes abortion.

Roach was also one to reach across the aisle on legislation like labor policy, supplemental budget legislation and carbon reduction.

“If you are going to be around a while, you have to be sensitive of all sides,” Roach said, who was one of the few Republicans endorsed by the Washington State Labor Council.

She resigned from the state legislature as the senate’s president pro tempore in 2017 to be sworn-in as a Pierce County councilmember.

County council

Once at Pierce County, one of her first changes was to request that maintenance swap her glass door for the janitor’s wooden one. Roach said if there was a gunman, she wanted to have a secure door he “couldn’t just shoot through it to get in.”

Complaints of her quick temper followed the Republican to her county seat. Within her first year, county executive Bruce Dammeier called Roach’s conduct rude and told staff to avoid contacting her outside of emails. She also was scolded for yelling a vulgarity at her her son, former council chairman Dan Roach, at a council meeting last year.

Another one of her sons recently sought drug treatment, and Roach has since pivoted her focus to address the homelessness crisis and drug abuse. She notably sent out a mailer to District 2’s residents asking if they would prefer to spend $100k on tiny homes for those experiencing homelessness, or convert one of the Pierce County Jail’s vacant prison towers into a homeless facility.

“Of the seven cell towers at the Pierce County Jail, only three are being used for incarceration,” she said in a statement. “Four have been essentially mothballed.”

She created the Outdoor Sports and Recreation Council to advocate for anglers, hikers and recreational shooting.

Most recently, she has been pushing for government action on the opioid crisis. Last month, she went to the National Association of Counties conference to propose the national 211 hotline include a “drug line” with local rehabilitation and treatment resources. The measure was voted unanimously by 2,000 county officials across the country.

“We need to get help for people with a drug problem. This issue isn’t going away,” Roach said. “Everybody has a phone, I want them to just push a button and get some help.”

Roach endorsed state senator Hans Zeiger to run for her seat next year.

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Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.
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