Revered and reviled, Pam Roach is stepping away from one challenge to embrace another.
An outspoken and controversial Republican senator who has represented Auburn and the 31st Legislative District for more than a quarter-century, Roach is leaving Olympia to work on matters closer to home, as a recently elected member of the Pierce County Council.
Roach plans to resign her Senate seat effective Jan. 3, prior to being sworn into her county position, a four-year term, later the same day.
“It has been a sincere honor and privilege to represent the good people of the 31st District,” said Roach, 68, the longest-serving female state senator in Washington, who was elected in 2014 to a record seventh term. “My time in the Legislature has been focused on making their lives better – improving education, making our schools and neighborhoods safer, fighting for jobs, protecting their right to public information and defending those who pay taxes.
“I’m happy with all that we have achieved at the state level, but after 26 years, I am ready to devote my skills and energy to solving problems at the county level.”
Two GOP politicians – state Rep. Drew Stokesbary of Auburn and Pierce County Charter Review Commission Chair Sharon Hanek – have publicly expressed interest in their party appointing them to Roach’s Senate seat.
“Whoever takes my place, I want them to be a worker in the district,” Roach said. “I want them to be able to make the time to do that. … It is really important to represent the district when it comes to the vote.
“One thing that has helped me in my elections is people did know where I stood on the issues,” she added.
Roach, who had pledged to vacate her position in the Senate if elected to the county seat, narrowly defeated former legislator Carolyn Edmonds, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 general election. She succeeds Republican Joyce McDonald, who was unable to run again because of term limits.
The new job, as Roach explained, fits her skill set and her familiarity with the area, its people and issues. Prior to her work in the Senate, Roach worked on King County matters for 12 years. The senator began her political career as a citizen activist and later worked as chief of staff to the late former state senator and King County councilman Kent Pullen.
Roach, who established Pierce County residency in 2015 at a Sumner home she said she had owned for 12 years, will receive a salary boost. The County Council job pays an annual salary of $107,602. Roach made $45,474 a year serving in the Senate, excluding expense payments and travel reimbursements.
But, Roach said, serving the people is what it’s all about.
“Mostly I like to serve people,” she said. “The fact of being in Olympia, with hearings and doing the floor action, that’s not why you love the job. You love the job because you can truly help people. You are given a very special gift that allows you to advocate for your constituents.”
Roach reflected on all she had accomplished during her time in the Senate.
One of the areas she highlighted was her continuing effort to create jobs and revive the economy by raising awareness of the importance of Washington’s ports. The region, she said, needs to maintain a strong, active port, especially when other locks in Canada and Panama have improved their capabilities in major shipping markets.
She vows to keep a close watch on the port.
“I have been working hard to keep our ports competitive,” Roach said. “I want to protect jobs and our economy and have proudly worked with both business and labor in this effort.”
On her to-do list for the county is looking at ways to solve growing homelessness, reduce unnecessary regulations and promote and protect access to natural resources and outdoor recreation.
Roach leaves a legacy in the Legislature. She has been a leading advocate for public safety, pushing for the passage of legislation that gives law-enforcement officers and prosecutors more tools to go after human traffickers, a topic she has spoken on before international audiences.
Roach supported legislation to protect Washington families by keeping sex predators out of neighborhoods. She successfully sponsored a bill targeting sex criminals who use the Internet to prey on children. She’s been a leader in cracking down on methamphetamine-related crimes and strengthening the state’s DUI laws.
She also demanded Child Protective Services reforms; protected farmers and property owners near Lake Tapps from onerous regulations; defended the people’s right to make and reject laws through the power of initiative and referendum; and supported the state’s veterans and active duty military.
As chair of the Senate Governmental Operations and Security Committee, Roach been a persistent advocate for a measure aimed at restoring and strengthening the Taxpayer Protection Act by enshrining it in the state’s constitution. Washington voters have supported the two-thirds majority-vote requirement for tax-raising legislation six times, in ballot measures stretching over 22 years.
“For us, the highlight of the 2016 legislative session was watching Sen. Roach’s relentless effort to convince her fellow lawmakers to respect the voters’ approval of Initiative 1366 and refer a two-thirds-for-taxes constitutional amendment to the ballot,” said Tim Eyman, an initiative sponsor and taxpayer advocate. “It was heroic. Taxpayers have been lucky to have Pam Roach fighting for them. Her strong support for the people’s right to initiative is sincerely appreciated.”
In addition, Roach is the founder of La Escuela de Esperanza (School of Hope) in Honduras, which provides teachers, educational material and humanitarian relief to Honduran children. She also founded the “Clinica Medica Pam Roach,” a health clinic in Honduras that provides needed clothing and medical supplies.
The Washington Coalition for Open Government honored Roach as the No. 1 senator in promoting open government. The Sunlight Foundation ranked her as the most effective member of the state Legislature when it came to passing bills with bipartisan support.
Despite her achievements, Roach’s time in Olympia has been marred by controversy and conflicts and with colleagues and staff. Opponents have challenged her residency, political fundraising and expense reimbursements. But none of those accusations has resulted in formal charges.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen kicked Roach off a state human trafficking task force for confronting and verbally abusing victims and staff members last December.
In 2010 fellow Republicans banned her from the Senate Caucus after colleagues told her she had repeatedly mistreated staff and should get counseling to manage her anger. Republicans barred her from the caucus room, though she could still vote on the Senate Floor.
Roach hasn’t forgotten the raucous in the caucus.
“The only regrets that I have don’t come from any of my constituents. They don’t come from any of my actions … and not from the Republican party,” she said. “The regrets come from the Senate Republican leadership, who, on occasion, has been very nasty.”
Roach intends to chronicle her caucus experience in a book, “and I will be telling people what it’s like to be a woman inside the caucus.”
She acknowledges she has won some bitterly-fought, nasty re-election campaigns. She refuses to apologize for fighting what she deemed was right for herself, for her family and for those she represented.
Roach refuses to look back, only ahead, emotions aside.
“You look back on the fond memories, but it’s a quick-paced world. I already have plans for the future,” she said. “I’ll miss the one-on-one with people with issues that I know I can help maybe only from a Senate spot.”
Roach and her husband, Jim, have been married for 46 years. They have five grown children, one of whom, Dan, is in the middle of a four-year term on the Pierce County Council. They have 17 grandchildren.
“I’ve been very blessed,” Roach said. “I’ve had the family and I’ve had the career.”