It’s become almost a ritual at the Washington Capitol. State Sen. Pam Roach gets into hot water for behavior deemed rude or offensive by others. There’s a hubbub for a few days or weeks.
Then Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle turns away as Roach, a Republican from Sumner, quiets down. Until the next eruption.
In the latest chapter, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen kicked Roach off a task force on human trafficking to which he’d appointed her last year. Owen’s action, taken Monday in a letter to the lawmaker, was in response to comments she made to victims of trafficking Dec. 14 that were seen as demeaning to the victims or blaming them for their plight.
This was the second time in two years the lieutenant governor, who is the Senate’s presiding officer, has called Roach out for misbehavior — accusations that 25-year lawmaker typically rejects. Owen said the one-month delay from December let him gather facts about the incident.
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Roach told reporters Monday afternoon that she hadn’t yet read Owen’s letter. Roach argued that she’s well qualified for the task force because she’s worked on sex trafficking issues.
But in his letter, Owen noted that he received “numerous” complaints about her remarks last month and that Commerce Department officials described employees as “visibly shaken” by Roach’s “attacks.”
“You attacked agency staff, persons both present and absent, stakeholders, and persons who have miraculously survived being victims of trafficking … I am horrified that your abuse extended to the survivors of trafficking,” Owen wrote. He accused Roach of trying “to diminish the horrors” of human trafficking and erode support for actions to prevent it.
Roach, according to Owen, asked whether individuals being trafficked were “illegals” and suggested that minors being sexually trafficked “probably spend their money on drugs.’’
Owen wrote that he lacks authority to remove Roach from office, but she “should be removed based on your history of egregious and offensive behavior, conduct unbecoming any elected official, a consistent disregard for the rules of the Senate, and multiple public displays of contempt for your colleagues, Senate staff, your personal staff, and members of the public.’’
Owen noted that sanctions were imposed on Roach — “most often by Republican colleagues” — in 1999, 2003, 2008, 2009, and 2010, and sanctions were recommended in 2012. Past sanctions included barring her from GOP caucus meetings.
But when the GOP has needed Roach, leaders lifted sanctions — such as in 2013 when the Republicans formed a Majority Coalition Caucus of 25 members, including Roach and two Democrats, that wrested control of the Senate from Democrats.
After last year’s rebuke of Roach for her treatment of witnesses in a committee, we noted that Democrats weren’t much better. They joined forces with Roach and another Republican to create a slim majority and replace Sen. Tim Sheldon (a Democrat who caucuses and votes with Republicans) with Roach as president pro tem, serving during Owen’s absences.
Owen has perfected the presiding role over two decades with his voice of calm, respect and dignity.
“Last year I emphasized that ‘sixteen years of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct is enough,’ ” Owen’s letter concluded. “A year has passed. Your conduct has not improved. I am not optimistic it will.’’
We don’t put much stock in Senate leaders doing anything either. But they should.