State Sen. Pam Roach’s 26-year tenure in the Legislature will come to a close next month, she announced Thursday.
Roach plans to resign from the Senate on Jan. 3, the same day the Sumner Republican is sworn into her new position on the Pierce County Council.
Though Roach’s term in the Legislature doesn’t end until 2019, she said during her County Council campaign that she didn’t plan to hold both offices. A new county charter amendment also prohibits her from doing so. Voters passed the ban on dual officeholding in the same election they picked Roach for the council.
Roach’s chosen resignation date sets up a potentially tricky situation involving the appointment of her replacement. It hypothetically could leave Democrats, who now control the House and governor’s office, fully in charge of government in Olympia for a short time.
The state Republican party has called a Jan. 3 meeting of 31st Legislative District precinct committee officers to choose three names of possible replacements. That list will go to the Republican-controlled Pierce County Council and the Democrat-majority King County Council, which will together make the appointment since the 31st District includes parts of both counties.
The councils have a maximum of 60 days from Roach’s resignation to appoint a new senator or the decision goes to the governor. If the councils don’t act quickly, the seat could be vacant when the legislative session begins Jan. 9.
That vacancy would leave the Senate, which is now run by a Republican coalition, in a 24-24 tie. When there’s a tie in the Senate, the lieutenant governor — Democrat Cyrus Habib — can decide to cast the deciding vote.
State Sen. Sharon Nelson, the Democratic minority leader, said, in the event of a tie, Democrats would look at passing legislation that has failed to get approval in recent years while the Republicans held the Senate majority. She named the Voting Rights Act, which would reform representation of minorities in local elections, and legislation that seeks to ensure equal pay for women as possibilities.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican from Ritzville, noted there are conflicting legal opinions on whether Habib can cast a deciding vote on legislation. If the Democrats did try such a maneuver: “I think that would make cooperation on really tough issues or other priorities more difficult for the minority,” Schoesler said.
Caleb Heimlich, the executive director of the state GOP, said he trusts the county councils won’t “play politics with something as important as this.”
He said he has spoken with both councils and is under the impression a new senator will be appointed before the session begins. Most open legislative positions are quickly filled, he said.
King County Council Chairman Joe McDermott, a Democrat, did not return a call Thursday.
Two Republicans have publicly said they are interested in being appointed to Roach’s seat: Pierce County Charter Review Commission Chairwoman Sharon Hanek of Bonney Lake and state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn.
Hanek and Roach said Rep. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, is also interested. Roach said she prefers Fortunato.
The district includes Auburn, Edgewood, Sumner, Lake Tapps, Bonney Lake, Enumclaw, Buckley, South Prairie, Wilkeson and Carbonado.
In announcing her resignation Thursday, Roach reflected on her 25 years in office, which featured work on public safety, open government and defense of the Second Amendment. A news release from her Olympia office said 123 bills Roach introduced are now law. She was first elected to the state Senate in 1990 and is the longest-serving member of the Senate.
“I can look in the eye of my children — and now 17 grandchildren — and let them know I did the very best I could.”
She touted her position as chairwoman of the Senate’s Government Operations and Security Committee and as president pro tempore of the Senate, where she referees floor action in the chamber if the lieutenant governor is absent.
“I’m leaving at the top,” she said.