Politics & Government

Pam Roach, controversial GOP state senator, running for Pierce County Council

State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, speaks on the Senate floor in 2013.
State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, speaks on the Senate floor in 2013. Staff writer

State Sen. Pam Roach, whose time in the Legislature has included periodic conflicts with colleagues and staff, is planning to run for a seat on the Pierce County Council in 2016.

The announcement comes almost four months after Roach, 67, took steps to establish herself as a Pierce County resident. On May 7, the veteran senator changed the address on her voter registration from her seven-acre farm in South King County to a house she owns in Sumner.

The county charter requires council members to be residents and registered voters of their districts for at least one year prior to filing for their position. Candidate filing for the 2016 election begins May 16.

Roach is the first candidate to announce for the council seat being vacated next year by County Councilwoman Joyce McDonald, a Republican who can’t run again due to term limits.

As recently as August, Roach was sending press releases listing her hometown as Auburn, which is roughly where her farm is located in unincorporated King County. Roach’s husband, Jim, remains registered to vote at the farm.

In an interview Monday, Roach said she began living at the Sumner house she has owned for 13 years during her Senate re-election campaign last fall, “and never really left it.” She said she lives there, and her husband lives with her — but she noted she doesn’t stay at the Sumner house every night.

Roach objected to a reporter asking additional questions about where she lives, noting, “I can live wherever I want to. People can have two residences, I’m sorry.”

She added: “Who I have with me is my own damn business, and I’m not going to answer any more of these questions.”

The County Council job comes with an annual salary of $107,602. Roach makes $45,474 per year serving in the Senate, not including expense payments and travel reimbursements.

Roach didn’t rule out holding both positions at once. Unlike in some states, Washington law doesn’t preclude politicians from holding two elected offices simultaneously. Roach's colleague, Democratic Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, has been a Mason County commissioner for more than a decade.

Nor does anything in the Pierce County charter prevent Roach from serving in both roles, county auditor Julie Anderson wrote in an email.

“I have guarded the 31st District senate seat for 25 years, and I will continue to do that,” Roach said, adding: “I want to be careful with whoever will replace me.”

This isn’t the first time Roach has faced residency questions. When she ran for King County Council in 2003, political opponents challenged her residency at an Enumclaw house owned by a friend. A King County interim elections director ruled that she could use the address, but also noted that the evidence “certainly indicates a pattern of changing residence for voter-registration purposes to suit residency requirements for elected or appointed office," according to a Seattle Times story.

Roach represents the 31st Legislative District, which includes Auburn, Edgewood, Sumner, Lake Tapps, Bonney Lake, Enumclaw, Buckley, South Prairie, Wilkeson and Carbonado. Both her farm in King County and her home in Sumner are within the 31st district, which crosses county lines.

During her 25-year Senate career, Roach has been known for her confrontations with staff that led Republicans to kick her out of their private meetings from 2010 to 2012. In 2008, she was barred from contact with Senate staff for several years following one incident with a staff member.

Previously, she was reprimanded and asked to seek counseling in 2003 after staffers accused her of illegally obtaining employees’ e-mails and driving some to quit. She also was accused of brandishing a handgun at a staffer.

Roach since has had all of her caucus privileges and access to staff restored. She now chairs a Senate committee, and, in her role as Senate president pro tempore, presides over the Senate when Lt. Gov. Brad Owen is away.

Roach’s run for Pierce County Council means she could end up serving there with her son, Dan Roach, a fellow Republican who is currently the chairman of the seven-member council. Dan Roach is in the middle of a four-year term that extends through 2018.

Or, alternatively, Dan Roach could find himself in the position of vetoing policies supported by his mother. The younger Roach said Friday that he plans to run next year for Pierce County executive, a race that is quickly becoming crowded.

Already gunning for the executive job are state Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, and Pierce County Councilman Rick Talbert, D-Tacoma.

Should Pam Roach and Dan Roach both end up as elected Pierce County officials, it wouldn’t be the first time they have served together. Both were Republicans in the Legislature between 2001 and 2010, though Dan Roach served in the House while his mother served in the Senate.