A debate over personnel discipline and transparency in the state Senate came to a head on the Senate floor this morning.
It appeared in the form of an arcane-seeming dispute over how many members a little-noticed committee on Senate personnel matters should have and who should chair it. Republicans and their two Democratic allies this morning turned aside proposed changes by minority Democrats that would have deposed GOP Sen. Don Benton as chairman of the Facilities and Operations (F&O) Committee.
A week and a half after the Senate’s transfer of power, Democrats are complaining about how that committee is operating. Former F&O Chairwoman Karen Fraser said on the floor that procedures are not being followed and “communications between members have deteriorated,” while Sen. David Frockt said “accusations (are) being leveled against particular members that they are under suspicion.”
The cause of the discord is F&O’s decision to lift sanctions on GOP Sen. Pam Roach and to investigate who leaked documents to the Associated Press dealing with Roach’s alleged mistreatment of Senate staff.
The GOP-controlled F&O authorized the Senate secretary to investigate, and now Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom is interviewing senators and staffers. Benton said the committee and the secretary decided to have Tom take the lead on the probe.
On the floor, Minority Leader Ed Murray compared the leak probe to the ones conducted by Nixon’s “plumbers” during Watergate. He bemoaned the “complete lack of transparency” in shielding proceedings from the news media.
Benton said it’s “quite embarrassing” that Democrats haven’t “graciously” accepted their new status as the minority.
He said F&O would have a policy of not publicly releasing personnel documents, including from the now-concluded investigation of Roach. He said saying that’s how the committee has worked in the past except for during a “politically motivated” investigation of Roach — seemingly agreeing with Roach’s longstanding claims that she has been persecuted by her own party’s leaders. He said the new leadership on the committee has closed the personnel investigation into Roach with no finding of wrongdoing.
“We’re going to stop using the F&O committee for political gain and political retribution,” Benton said.
Benton said, however, that the investigation continues into the “illegal release of confidential information” about Roach.