By Rachel La Corte Associated Press
OLYMPIA — A Senate Republican senior attorney is seeking a $1.75 million settlement from the state, saying a hostile work environment has been created by allowing a controversial senator back into the GOP caucus and restoring her access to staff in exchange for a vital budget vote.
In a document obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, an attorney for Republican Senate Counsel Mike Hoover says that Hoover felt pressured to quit so that the caucus “could more easily make a trade with” Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn.
“Mr. Hoover understandably has no faith that the caucus can or will take any steps to protect him or other staff from Senator Roach’s behavior in the future,” attorney Daniel Johnson writes.
Hoover, who was in the Senate chamber Wednesday afternoon, declined comment, saying he wanted to consult with his attorney and officials in the Legislature.
“I honestly don’t know what to do here,” he said.
Roach was banned from the Republican caucus two years ago after an investigation concluded that she had mistreated staff. GOP leaders wrote in a letter to her that they had concluded that she should be physically separated from other members and staff.
They implemented policies barring Roach from the caucus room and deemed her ineligible to participate in caucus votes. The letter did say the policies could be re-evaluated in one year with the mutual agreement of the caucus and Roach.
The punishment followed numerous incidents with Hoover, culminating with an “unusually vicious attack” in 2009, according to the 15-page document sent Monday to Tom Hoemann, the secretary of the Senate. In that incident, the document says, Roach yelled at Hoover during a meeting with the rest of the caucus.
“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.
The document says that Roach has targeted Hoover since 2003, and that during that first year she “regularly yelled at him, demanded that he swear loyalty to her, and threatened to have him fired if he crossed her.”
Roach wouldn’t comment Wednedsay, saying she was not aware of the letter.
She also wouldn’t comment on whether her budget vote was part of the deal for her to return to caucus and regain access to staff.
Johnson, Hoover’s attorney, writes that all of the restrictions on her were lifted “solely for political reasons.”
Democrats hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, but last month, Republicans established a philosophical majority in the Senate on March 2 after three Democrats stood with them on a GOP-crafted budget plan that then passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Roach also voted with them. That chamber passed an alternate plan agreed to by majority Democrats in the House and Senate.
Since then, Johnson writes, “several” caucus members have asked Hoover to agree with what they had done.
“Mr. Hoover feels pressured to make reassuring statements that are false and not at all representative of his true feelings,” the letter states.
Johnson writes that Hoover’s physical and emotional health has been impacted by the decision to restore Roach to the caucus, saying that he has suffered headaches, stomach and heart problems, sleep disturbances and stress nightmares.
After hearing of Senate Republican’s decision on Roach on March 2, he believed he was having a heart attack and was taken to the hospital by Senate security.
“The caucus’ lifting of all sanctions against Senator Roach, without requiring her to meet the express conditions the Senate had placed on lifting them, dispelled Mr. Hoover’s illusions that the abuse and harassment he has endured would ever really stop,” Johnson wrote.
The letter includes two documents, including an invitation that was sent for Roach to return to the caucus Feb. 29, and March 2 document saying that the caucus had voted to remove all sanctions against her.