January 19, 2013 in City

Lawmakers find common cause in chasing leak

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The new “bipartisan majority” in the Washington Senate is wasting no time jumping into a serious matter.

Call it the Roach affair, and note that the new coalition – made up of Republicans plus a couple of defectors – is going right after it, even before the first gavel echoes die down.

Auburn Rep. Pam Roach has racked up an impressive record of complaints about her legendary tongue-lashings of staffers and other senators. She’s been reprimanded repeatedly by the GOP caucus for mistreating staffers. She was secretly recorded once giving an amusingly over-the- top overreaction to the fact that someone had moved roses from her desk. A couple of years ago, she was banned from the GOP caucus – her own party caucus – and prohibited from having any direct contact whatsoever with caucus staff or attorneys. This followed an incident in 2009 that was deemed by the Republican caucus a “particularly vicious attack” on a caucus lawyer.

The 15-page report on the issue, as reported in the Associated Press, said: “Some fled the room or put their hands over their ears to muffle the screaming; others felt helpless, embarrassed and physically ill from watching,” the document said. “One person said it was like watching a car that ‘kept backing up over the victim again and again.’ ”

The report said Roach had targeted the attorney, Mike Hoover, since 2003 and “regularly yelled at him, demanded that he swear loyalty to her, and threatened to have him fired if he crossed her.”

The GOP caucus let Roach back in the door last year, when it was in desperate need of a key vote during the dramatic GOP takeover of the budget process. It did this despite a fresh complaint that Roach had verbally abused a staffer tasked with enforcing the sanctions against her for verbally abusing staffers.

But now, the new “majority” and the Facilities and Operations Committee are showing their mettle by uncorking a new investigation into l’affaire Roach.

Not the issue of her behavior. Not the matter of the cost and expense and time of continually investigating and either defending or disciplining an alleged bully. No, no. What’s got the new, bright-future-majority up in arms is the fact that anybody found out about it.

They’re launching an investigation to find out who leaked the most recent complaint.

Here’s to their failure.

Roach claims that the complaints about her are utterly false and that she has been victimized by just a few members of her party. In a statement, she mentioned repeatedly that she travels around the world on humanitarian missions. Let’s imagine that the stories of screaming, the audiotaped evidence of her preposterous “roses” speech, the repeated sanctions, the utter banishment by her own party – let’s imagine all of that is invented, made-up attack politics, as she says. Imagine that the Republican Party caucus went on an utter witch hunt, a completely baseless personal attack on a member in good standing.

Would the public have any right to know that? To examine and weigh the evidence? To see how the matter was handled, tip to tail?

Almost always, leak investigations are power plays, bully moves meant to protect institutions and officials, usually under some rationalized “principle” – confidentiality, privacy, national security.

In the Roach case, someone has leaked some – but not all – of the evidence surrounding complaints, including the report in 2010 to the secretary of state that led to her punishment. It was the basis for extraordinary actions – a party’s literal banishment of a member, the filing of a $1.75 million lawsuit that was later settled for no money but a reiteration of the sanctions, and a seeming quid-pro-quo in which the member was forgiven and brought back into the fold at the extraordinarily coincidental moment when her caucus was desperate to preserve a one-vote majority.

The Associated Press and Seattle Times have pursued further records about Roach complaints, and those requests remain unresolved. Lawmakers on the committee are arguing that all of this should occur in secret; they barred two reporters from a committee meeting earlier this week.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom spoke up in favor of all that secrecy and the leak investigation.

“One of the keys to that committee is that confidential records need to remain confidential,” Tom told the AP. “If we break that trust, then we no longer have that safe haven.”

Tom may be forgetting just whose trust is under contract here. He has characterized this as a personnel matter, which is silly. But even if it were a private matter between an employee and an employer, he and his fellows should try very hard not to forget who their employer – and Roach’s – really is.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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