By Mike Baker Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A Republican-dominated coalition in the state Senate has decided to investigate how The Associated Press obtained documents that describe another instance of a lawmaker verbally attacking a staff member.
Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said the chamber’s Facilities and Operations Committee will handle what he described as an investigation with “limited” scope.
“One of the keys to that committee is that confidential records need to remain confidential,” Tom said. “If we break that trust, then we no longer have that safe haven.”
Tom said he also opposed the public release of other documents related to complaints against GOP Sen. Pam Roach, saying the chamber needs to handle such personnel matters confidentially. But officials in the state Senate provided those files Wednesday night in response to public records requests.
The new documents, which include three written accounts of a budget meeting last March, describe how Roach interrupted a senator’s presentation and went on a red-faced tirade. One account described her using curse words, while another recounts how she rose out of her seat, pointed at another senator and used charged language to criticize what she deemed “fat” Republican districts.
The outburst occurred shortly after the Republican caucus allowed Roach back in to meetings. She had been barred from attending sessions due to past allegations that she mistreated staffers. It’s not clear who provided the written accounts of the March meeting because names were redacted.
“It was just like it always was before when she was in caucus,” wrote one person in attendance at the meeting. “Her face was red, she was attacking someone, staff was nervous about what would happen next, and no one did anything.”
Roach declined to comment Wednesday night, saying she hadn’t seen the documents. Former Sen. Dan Swecker, a lawmaker named as one target of Roach’s ire, did not return a call seeking comment.
The investigation into the leak comes a day after a committee, altered by a new GOP-leaning coalition in the Senate, voted to lift sanctions against Roach. Those sanctions were levied against her in 2010 after the Facilities and Operations Committee investigated allegations that she had mistreated staff, and the committee reaffirmed those sanctions just four months ago as part of a legal settlement after senior Republican attorney Mike Hoover complained that he was subjected to a hostile and abusive workplace because of Roach.
Hoover, who now works in the state House, said Wednesday he was disappointed that the sanctions were lifted.
“It worries me more for the employees that remain than for myself,” Hoover said.
The Facilities and Operations Committee on Tuesday night barred two reporters from attending the session. Republican Sen. Don Benton, who chairs the panel, confirmed that the sanctions against Roach had been lifted but refused to discuss deliberations after the meeting.
The panel lifted Roach’s sanctions despite fresh documents that concluded Roach had again mistreated staff last year. In a story last week, the AP reported on documents that concluded Roach violated the Senate’s workplace policies in March by verbally attacking a Senate Republican staffer charged with upholding sanctions against her.
Jason Mercier, who leads government reform efforts at the conservative Washington Policy Center, said he was concerned about how the Facilities and Operations Committee was barring public access to its activities.
“The committee had no obligation to allow the press and the public in,” Mercier said. “But with the nature of what’s being discussed, and the importance of it, if there isn’t anything to hide, why wouldn’t you want full access?”
Roach said earlier Wednesday that the sanctions placed on her spawned from cutthroat politics and that she never knows what the accusations are or who is making them.
“This never should have happened in the first place,” Roach said. She declined comment on the leak investigations, saying she was just learning about it.
Associated Press Writer Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.