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Rummel: Pam Roach wants to take the high road, but it isn’t natural for her

Elaine Thompson The Associated Press file, 2015

If you’ve lived in the Puget Sound region long enough, you probably know Pierce County Councilmember Pam Roach’s name.

Even if you don’t, you’re probably still familiar with some of her exploits.

There was the time (not that long ago) that she got into an argument with another Pierce County council member during a meeting and demanded staff turn the mics off.

As a state senator, she went on a rant after someone allegedly moved flowers on her desk.

These incidents aren’t out-of-character for Roach. I covered the 2015 legislative session in Olympia as a reporter-intern when I was in college and I witnessed some committee meetings she ran. These were always the most exciting government functions because it really felt like almost anything could happen. There were very few rules with Roach, or, at least, the only rules were the ones she was personally interested in enforcing that day.

Why are we talking about Pam Roach

I bring all this up to establish Roach’s fiery, confrontational reputation that I witnessed again when she called me recently. She was angry, and that anger was directed at me.

Here’s a timeline of what happened:

August 29: The Tacoma News Tribune breaks the story that Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier released a memo to his staff directing them to only communicate with Roach in writing, due to her rude and unprofessional behavior.

September 5, around 6 a.m.: We talk about this story on The Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, the show I produce. Jason realizes, during the segment, he wanted to have Roach on the show as a guest. I immediately shoot an email to Roach’s staff seeking an interview.

September 5, around 9 a.m.: Roach calls me directly in response to the interview request, furious we didn’t consult her first before talking about this story. I get sweaty, which is what happens when I get nervous, but I explain the situation. I tell her I thought we treated her fairly in the segment and if she agreed to an interview, we’d give her the chance to tell her side of the story. She cooled down after that, and then she talked to me for 40 more minutes.

Strap in, because this is where it gets weird.

45 minutes on the phone with Pam Roach:

Pretty much immediately I started to feel how I assume New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza felt when he got that infamous call from then-White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci.

I’m the producer of a talk radio show. I’m a member of the media. Roach knew this when she called me because she was responding to a request for an interview. Roach never asked for this conversation to be kept off the record, and I took notes throughout the conversation.

She told me about the incident she believes led to Dammeier writing this memo. She shared a lot of complicated detail, but here’s the gist: there’s a disagreement between Roach and Dammeier about whether Tacoma should annex Dash Point and Browns Point. Recently, Dammeier visited Roach’s office to discuss this, and things got heated.

Roach tweeted on August 30, “I asked Dammeier to leave my office because he went behind my voters & me to have Tac annex the points. Good communication ended then.”

According to Roach, Dammeier wouldn’t leave even after she told him to get out.

“This [expletive] was in my office and doesn’t leave when I ask him to leave?” Roach said. “What the hell kind of man is this?”

Roach also told me she’s heard rumors Dammeier is considering a run for governor and releasing this memo to the press was an attempt to garner votes in the center by proving he’s not a hardcore Republican.

During the rest of the conversation, she detailed several other times she clashed with Dammeier and explained some of her frustrations with Pierce County government. The call ended after she agreed to an on-air interview.

That night, I received this text: “Jacob. I would like to cancel for tomorrow. My friends do not think that perpetuating this is a good idea. My first inclination is to fight back. I do that for others, so I should reserve that for myself as well. But, sometimes you just have to take the advise [sic] of others who have your best interest in mind.”

I was a little peeved we wouldn’t get the interview, but I also thought this was a good idea for Roach. She was trying to take the high road, stay above the fray.

But it also seemed like too little, too late. She called a radio producer and told him she thought the Pierce County executive was a name I’m not allowed to print or say on the air.

Personally, I actually respect her for her frankness. I don’t know a whole lot about her policy stances, but her constituents keep voting her into office, so I assume she’s doing something right. All that said, if this is the way she talks about colleagues to the media, I can’t imagine how she talks to them behind closed doors.

I’m not opposed to working with difficult people (listen to The Jason Rantz Show weekday mornings on KTTH) and maybe Roach is right, this is just a politically calculated move made by someone with gubernatorial aspirations. Given the evidence, though, it’s not that hard to believe Dammeier is just taking a necessary precaution to protect his staff.

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