Employees in the Washington state Senate were surely sighing with relief last fall after the departure of Republican lawmaker Pam Roach of Bonney Lake.
Roach, who won election to the Pierce County Council last fall, had a record of erratic behavior since 1998. This included run-ins with staff and members of the Senate Republican Caucus. The exasperated caucus at one point limited Roach’s contacts with legislative staff.
The turmoil is over now — at least in the Senate. But a few House aides have been taking turns as targets of abusive remarks from a boss also elected from Pierce County. That is what former legislative and campaign staffers of Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, contend.
They say the legislator could be hostile or intimidating. Young allegedly told one aide he was stupid and his former campaign manager said he berated her. The latter said she quit on the eve of the 2014 election.
Though Young disputes the claims and two former campaign staffers told investigators they had not witnessed yelling, a House investigation last year came to different conclusions. The House probe found “a pattern of hostile and intimidating” actions by Young toward staffers. This is outlined in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that House counsel Alison Hellberg sent to Young.
As we have said about Roach, yelling or berating staff is inappropriate and unprofessional. Unwelcome in any workplace, it’s all the more offensive coming from individuals working at taxpayer expense.
Hellberg’s letter also noted “ethical concerns” that came to light during the investigation. Rep. Young deserves a full hearing if any complaint is lodged with the Legislative Ethics Board.
In the meantime, Young was put on notice that abuse behavior is out of line and that he needs counseling; his contacts with an aide are limited for a year.
The larger issue here is that the Legislature must hold members accountable when they stray into abusive conduct. The situation with Roach did not necessarily improve — despite requests over many years by Senate staff that she curb outbursts, receive counseling or keep away from other staffers.
Unfortunately lawmakers of each party tolerated Roach’s behavior when there was political gain for doing so. Sanctions on the senator were lifted after Senate Republicans formed a coalition with two Democrats to seize the majority in 2013, and the GOP needed to keep Roach in its camp.
Democrats were no better. The Senate Democratic Caucus used Roach — with help from one of her GOP friends — to punish Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch in 2015. Sheldon had broken with Democrats to form the Republican majority, and they elected Roach to replace him as president pro tem.
Though Young protests his innocence, the last word may belong to voters in the 2018 election.