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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Embattled Washington State Senator Defends Behavior

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Washington state senator with a long record of reprimands for her treatment of staff is taking the offensive. Republican Pam Roach Thursday fired back at her accusers -- they include some fellow Republicans. The move comes just as fresh allegations of staff mistreatment emerge. And a narrow majority coalition takes power in the Washington Senate.

It was one of the most unusual capitol press conferences in recent memory. Senator Roach called reporters to her office and for the next hour defended her reputation and -- using visual props -- highlighted her 22-year record of public service, including humanitarian work overseas.

“You know I’m out working," Roach said. "Lots of pictures, lots of places I go. I like me, I like the things I do.”

But the record shows, as far back as 1997, Roach was warned that her conduct toward staff violated the Senate’s respectful workplace policy. She was warned again in 1999. Reprimanded in 2003. And in 2008 even restricted from having direct contact with Republican caucus staff.

In 2010 she was reprimanded again for a “very personal, demeaning attack” on a Senate lawyer. For that Roach was booted from the Republican caucus and barred from having contact with most Senate staff. To this day, Roach maintains she’s done nothing wrong.

“I have not mistreated anybody,” she insists.

Instead, Roach says she’s the one who’s been mistreated all these years -- often by leaders of her own party.

“This is the largest, most concentrated effort to ruin somebody’s name in the legislature that has ever happened in state history,” Roach says.

One of Roach’s allies is Senator Don Benton, a fellow Republican. This week Benton led a successful effort to repeal the 2010 sanctions against Roach -- even though they were just re-imposed last fall as part of a legal settlement.

“What we have is an aggressive, passionate hardworking senator who sometimes ruffles the feathers of her own leadership," Benton says. "And I believe it was long overdue to put that behind us.”

But Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler disagrees that Roach has been unfairly targeted.

“I don’t believe it was for politics,” he says.

This week’s vote to lift the sanctions against Roach was not unanimous. Democrats like Senator Karen Fraser voted no. She believes it was a political decision. Roach is a vital vote in the new 25 member coalition that now controls the Washington Senate.

“It has an appearance of being part of a grand plan for keeping the majority together, " Fraser says. "It has the appearance.”

But the leader of the new Senate majority, Democrat Rodney Tom, says there was no quid pro quo.

“That’s not how I work and if anybody thinks that Pam Roach is pledged they don’t know Pam Roach.”

Even as Roach defends her name, Senate Democrats are calling for the release of a new investigative report. It is said to detail yet another incident involving the controversial senator. Meanwhile all Washington senators this week were required to complete respectful workplace training.

On the Web:

Sen. Pam Roach (Senate Republican Caucus)

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."