Callaghan: Senate caucus puts power over justice with Roach reprieve

By Peter Callaghan, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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photoPeter Callaghan covers the state Legislature for The News Tribune in Tacoma. Blog: thenewstribune.com/politics; or Twitter: @CallaghanPeter. Reach him at peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com.

It would be easy to make the latest chapter in the Pam Roach story all about her. Certainly, that's what the star of the bizarre but repetitive saga would like, as proved yet again by her hour-plus news "conference" recently. Her rambling recitation of history according to Pam was meant to show that she is victim, not villain. Anyone who finds her behavior offensive, troubling and even legally actionable is part of a vast conspiracy against her, she says.

It remains clear that no attempts to help the disturbed Republican state senator from Auburn with carrots or sticks will alter that belief or change her behavior. So attention should instead turn to the folks who are using her and abusing those who have to put up with her. You see, the so-called Majority Coalition Caucus decided to waive sanctions against Roach that were imposed in 2010 for abusive actions toward staffers. In doing that, coalition leaders reneged on terms of a settlement with one of Roach's victims.

The reason for the change of heart, for breaking legal agreements, is not that Roach's behavior has improved; it has perhaps worsened. It is not that she completed the path created to return to her Republican caucus, a path that included seeking counseling. In fact, Roach ignored and even condemned those requirements.

No, Roach got a get-out-of-jail-free card because without her, the Majority Coalition Caucus would not have a majority of votes in the Senate. She is back because she is the 25th vote. Without her, new Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom would again be a not-especially welcome member of the Senate Democratic Caucus. Without her, Sens. Mark Schoesler and Linda Evans Parlette would again be relegated to minority party powerlessness.

But, the leaders protest, this coalition of two Democrats (Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon) and 23 Republicans is not about power, it's about policy. That's open to debate, but one thing it is surely not about is principle. Now that coalition members taste power, their previous distaste for Roach's behavior has dissipated. They have become the Immoral Majority.

History of antics

Roach has a long history of eccentric antics that she argues are justified or overplayed because she is a maverick and a woman. But the worst episode involved a yearslong verbal and emotional assault on GOP staff attorney Mike Hoover. That campaign culminated with a tirade in the GOP caucus room that an independent investigator determined violated the Senate's "respectful workplace" policy. "People expressed concern for themselves personally and professionally, for their families and the causes they care about," wrote investigator Chris Farias of the atmosphere of fear in the Senate GOP. "The level of fear was quite remarkable and in my opinion, genuine."

After partially lifting sanctions when she was the 25th vote during a partial takeover by coalition members last March -- an action that triggered Hoover's lawsuit -- Roach took up where she'd left off. She verbally attacked another GOP staffer, according to the report of a new investigation. That report was still in draft form when the Senate settled with Hoover, who gave up a demand for compensation as long as the sanctions against Roach were reinstated. But when the election left Tom, Sheldon and the Republicans a chance to take control for good, coalition leaders decided instead to lift all sanctions against Roach, their majority maker.

The coalition did take some action in regard to the latest report of abuse. It launched an investigation into how the report documents were leaked to an Associated Press reporter and by whom. Tom and his plumbers apparently care less about how innocent staff members are treated than how guilty senators are treated.

"Any Senator or supervisor who knows of harassment or discrimination will take appropriate steps under this policy to correct/stop such misconduct," states the Senate's respectful-workplace policy. Perhaps to give staffers and others fair warning, it should be amended to add "unless the harasser is the 25th vote."