Lieutenant governor Brad Owen kicked state senator Pam Roach (R-31, Sumner) off a state human trafficking task force Friday for verbally abusing victims and staff members in December.
“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Roach responded Monday.
In a January 22 letter to Roach, Owen, whose role as lieutenant governor includes senate president, denounced Roach in response to a December 14 task force meeting where Roach reportedly castigated task force staff and people who testified in front of the task force.
Owen wrote: “Since that date, I have received numerous complaints about your conduct. You attacked agency staff, persons both present and absent, stakeholders and persons who have miraculously survived being victims of trafficking. [Department of] Commerce officials described their staff as ‘visibly shaken’ by your attacks. … I am horrified that your abuse extended to the survivors of trafficking.”
The meeting was not videotaped, and Owen said it took time to sort through the complaints, which he said were consistent with each other.
“Among other fictions, you claimed that sexually trafficked and homeless youth are deliberately trying not to fit in with their families by tattooing their faces and getting piercings. Without any apparent basis, you minimized the exploitation of sexually trafficked minors by alleging they probably spend their money on drugs, and asked if the … trafficked persons were 'illegals.' These comments serve one and only one purpose: to diminish the horrors of trafficking by attacking its victims,” Owen wrote.
Later, Owen wrote: “I do not have the legal authority to remove you from the senate. I believe you should be removed based on your history of egregious and offensive behavior, conduct unbecoming of any elected official, a consistent disregard for the rules of the senate, and public displays of contempt for your colleagues, senate staff, personal staff and members of the public who suffer the misfortune of expressing disagreement with you on issues of public policy.”
But Owen did write he has the authority to replace Roach on the task force, and will assign a replacement after consulting with the Senate GOP leaders.
Roach told me Owen has a history of attacking her, and that he never talked to her prior to issuing last Friday’s letter to her. And she brought up Owen’s own $15,000 fine for misuse of his office as an attack on his credibility.
“I known this [trafficking issue]—with the leaving of Sen. [Jeanne] Kohl-Welles, (D-Seattle) — better than anyone else [in the Legislature],” Roach said. Roach pointed to two of her passed 2012 bills that combated child pornography and Internet-facilitated sex trafficking. She also noted she was a speaker on sex trafficking problems at a national American Legislative Exchange Council conference in 2015.
Roach has a history of bad behavior. The Senate Republican caucus expelled her in 2010 because she had verbally abused Senate staff members. That sanction included losing her privileges to work directly with senate staff members. In December 2012, when state senator Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch) and 23 Republicans combined forces to take over the 49-member senate, the GOP needed Roach as the 25th vote to take control from Democrats. So they appointed Roach as chair of the Senate Government Operations Committee and welcomed her back to the Republican caucus, which became the Majority Coalition Caucus.
In 2015, the 23 senate Democrats combined with senators Roach and Don Benton, (R-17, Vancouver) to elect Roach as the Senate president pro tempore; the president pro tempore presides over the full Senate as a parliamentary referee when Owen absent. The Democrats joined with the Democrats to replace Sheldon because of Sheldon's history of voting with the GOP and eventually caucusing with them to give the control of the senate. Is her position in jeopardy now. On Monday, senate minority leader Sharon Nelson (D-34, West Seattle, Maury Island) said it is up to the GOP’s Senate leaders on whether they want to try to replace Roach as president pro tempore now.
Owen has also reprimanded Roach before. In 2015, Roach, as chair of the government operations committee, used a hearing to dress down a lobbyist from the Washington Food Industry Association who was testifying on an unrelated matter (initiative reform) for supporting Roach's Republican primary opponent the year before. “You need to know where your money is going. You know what? I won,” Roach told WFIA representative Jan Gee.
“We have never seen such a raw and public display of connecting campaign contributions to legislative action," Owen wrote to Roach condemning Roach's public display of political vengeance.