Well-played, Sen. Roach.
Pam Roach, the Republication senator from the 31st Legislative District, has moved from a caucus of one to becoming the swing vote in the new coalition majority of 25 senators for the 2013-15 Legislature. In the process, she has gone from exiled to empowered.
The Republication Caucus banned Roach in 2010, after learning that she repeatedly mistreated staff. At the time, a letter from GOP leaders sent to Roach said “it would be best to physically separate you from the caucus staff and from other Republican senators while we are working on the floor.”
But that was before the 2012 general election.
As the Legislature convenes in 2013, the Senate Democrats’ slim majority of 26 of 49 seats has evaporated. Conservative Democratic Sens. Tim Sheldon of Mason County and Rodney Tom of Bellevue have aligned with Republicans to create a new majority coalition caucus of 25 members that now must include Roach.
Without Roach, the new coalition would result in a tied Senate. Thus, in order to take control of the Senate, the coalition majority needs to include Roach and welcome her back to the caucus that kicked her out.
The price for her commitment to the new coalition majority appears to be a chairmanship of the Senate Government Operations, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee and fully restored access to staff — in spite of her previous sanctions. This quid pro quo may not have actually occurred, because caucus negotiations are not public, but that is what appears to have happened.
This is great for Roach.
But the situation demonstrates a disturbing and fundamental weakness in the new majority. Any member of the new majority coalition can be the swing vote, hold out until they get what they want, and leverage the shaky nature of the coalition Senate.
And any member of the new coalition can be boorish and mistreat people without fear of repercussion for the good of the majority coalition.
We expect governing bodies such as city councils, county commissions, and the state Senate to have zero tolerance for elected officials who violate respectful workplace policies or create a hostile work environment through their actions and behavior.
Most employees who are found to repeatedly violate workplace policies are fired. But this is not the case for elected officials.
Roach has repeatedly violated Senate workplace policy. Violations are documented in numerous formal and costly reports, investigations, complaints, lawsuits and settlements. Her poor treatment of staff is no longer in question.
How her Senate Republican colleagues responded to these investigations is now surprising and disappointing.
It appears that politics trumps the treatment of employees. It also appears that the Senate will tolerate personal attacks on the staff and that the Senate is unable, or unwilling, to hold members accountable for actions deemed unacceptable in most any other workplace.
We expect our elected leaders — at all levels of government — to treat each other, constituents and employees with respect. And since only the public can remove an elected official from office, it is the responsibility of elected officials to hold each other accountable.
Senate Republicans should enforce sanctions instead of using them for political advantage.
There is no room for elected officials who berate, attack and create a hostile work environment. The 2010 sanctions against Roach were appropriate and responsible, and there is no good rationale for lifting them now.
Senate Republicans, Sheldon and Tom have sent a horrible message to employees, other elected officials and the public.