Three candidates for the 31st District state Senate seat — Raymond Bunk, Matt Richardson and Ron Weigelt — agree on one thing: It's time for the fourth candidate, the volatile incumbent Pam Roach, to go.
Three candidates for the 31st District state Senate seat agree on one thing: It’s time for the fourth candidate, the volatile incumbent Pam Roach, to go.
Even as the state faces a huge challenge in balancing its budget, Republican Matt Richardson and Democrats Raymond Bunk and Ron Weigelt say the big issue in their district is whether Roach can be an effective legislator after being ousted from her own party’s caucus.
Weigelt, human-resources manager for Public Health — Seattle & King County, puts it this way: “As a human-resources manager I deal with problem employees all the time. Having been disciplined five times since 1998, Pam Roach is a problem employee and she should be let go.”
Roach, a conservative Republican first elected to the Senate in 1990, says her opponents’ focus on her temperament and her relationships with Senate colleagues and staffers obscures her legislative accomplishments.
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Senate Republican leaders in January banned Roach from the party caucus and advised her to seek anger-management counseling after an internal investigation found she had “engaged in a very personal, demeaning attack” on a staff lawyer and created a hostile work environment.
Roach has been warned or reprimanded by the GOP caucus four times since 1998 for reasons that include telling staffers of her grievances against other lawmakers and trying to confront an aide in the presence of reporters.
She said the latest order for her to stay away from GOP caucus staff is part of an ongoing rift with Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt and other party leaders.
“I work hard for the district I serve, the community in the district, and I think my opponents don’t have anything to say but something that’s negative,” she said. “They’re not attacking me on my voting record, they’re not attacking me on my service to the community. They only want to do one thing, criticize my personality.”
Roach has raised more than $86,900 in campaign contributions, followed by Bunk with $33,100, Weigelt with $13,900 and Richardson with $8,400.
Bunk, a Federal Way police officer, calls himself “a blue-collar, 40-hour-a-week guy” who can understand constituents’ suffering in a weak economy.
He recently took a pay cut, and “I work hard. People respect that. They see me as a normal guy, not a career politician.”
Bunk, 38, said he would work to revamp the business-and-occupation tax so it taxes profits rather than sales and he would oppose increasing property or sales taxes. He hasn’t decided whether he will vote for Initiative 1098, which would impose an income tax on individuals earning $200,000 or more a year and couples earning $400,000.
He’s disappointed the Legislature overturned an earlier initiative that required a two-thirds legislative supermajority or a vote of the people for a tax increase, and said he supports Initiative 1053, which would reinstate those requirements.
To deal with an estimated $3 billion budget shortfall in the next biennium, he wants the Legislature to look for “goofy loopholes” in corporate taxes.
Richardson, a schoolteacher and Sumner City Council member, said he is running for Senate because of Roach’s ongoing conflicts with Republican leaders. He said those problems have put her GOP Senate seat at risk.
“Right now she is basically the poster child for why people should not vote Republican, because she is in the headlines all the time for all the wrong reasons,” said Richardson, 44, also a Republican.
However, Richardson has his own history of conflict.
He was involved in four neighborhood and domestic disputes between 2002 and 2005 in which he was accused of shoving, slapping or making threats, records from the Sumner Police Department and local courts show. Richardson was not charged with a crime in any of the incidents.
He acknowledged striking his teenage daughter and giving her a bruised eye, but said the injury was the accidental result of “a parental discipline slap that was not well aimed” when they were in a car.
Richardson said he doesn’t have a temper problem and denied that he threatened anyone. He said the incidents were all related to a child-custody dispute with his ex-wife.
In 1993 Richardson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sex crime — later dismissed and the record of conviction vacated — that allegedly occurred when he was a teenager. (See related story.)
He opposes I-1098’s proposed income tax on high-income people. “The last thing we need to be doing in an economic recession is taxing anybody more than they’re being taxed, people who are producing jobs,” he said.
He supports I-1053, the measure that would make it harder for lawmakers to raise taxes.
The state’s projected $3 billion budget gap in the coming biennium should be closed by following the business world’s model, Richardson said: giving departments a percentage cut and letting them decide how to meet those goals.
A former chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, Roach has sponsored a number of get-tough-on-crime measures, including a law that lowered the blood-alcohol standard for driving under the influence from 0.10 to 0.08 percent, and “Three Strikes You’re Out” and “Hard Time for Armed Crime” proposals that were rejected by the Legislature but later approved by voters through initiative.
When a Seattle man died after having sex with a horse near Enumclaw, Roach, 62, introduced a bill that made bestiality a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. She sponsored an election-reform law and is currently working to prevent closure of the Rainier School for developmentally disabled adults.
Roach opposes an income tax on high earners, predicting it would lead to an income tax on less wealthy people. She is a co-sponsor of I-1053.
If legislators asked state workers for advice on how to balance the budget, she said, “We might find — wink, wink — that middle management is bloated. We might find that top-level management is filled with people who have been around for 35 years who have no motivation to reduce the size of the system.”
Weigelt, a human-resources manager and Army veteran, said he is running because Roach is “good at grandstanding and creating publicity but not tackling the issues before us.”
A self-defined fiscal conservative, he said that to balance the budget, “Everything’s going to have to be on the table and they’re going to have to look for more efficiencies.” That means asking the state auditor for advice and considering steps taken by other states to reduce future employee pension costs, said Weigelt, 52.
He also suggested ending a tax break for the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia.
Weigelt hasn’t decided whether he supports the income tax initiative, I-1098: “I guess I’ll be looking at the facts right up to the time we’ll be voting on it.”
Although he criticized the Legislature’s suspension of an earlier initiative in order to raise taxes this year, he opposes I-1053, saying it is “too general” and “ties the hands of the Legislature to make changes to revenue sources where it’s reasonable.”
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org