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Allegations flare in 31st District Senate race between Pam Roach and Cathy Dahlquist
Roach is seeking her seventh term in the state Senate and Dahlquist is a two-term member of the state House of Representatives, first elected in 2010.
Reps. Chris Hurst and Dahlquist, Roach’s seat mates in the 31st, are working together to unseat the longtime senator. Both supported Roach in 2010.
The primary is Aug. 5. Ballots have been mailed throughout the district and must be postmarked by election day.
Lynda Messner is also on the ballot, identified as a Democrat, but there has been controversy whether she truly is a Democrat or was placed in the field to help Roach.
Hurst and Dahlquist have stated she is a “fake” Democrat. Roach said she had not met Messner prior to a recent encounter at The Seattle Times and thought she was “a nice lady.”
Both sides have accused the other of attempting to keep some people off the ballot and get others on – a tactic known as ballot configuring.
Hurst is being challenged for his seat by Republican Phil Fortunato.
The campaign between Roach and Dahlquist changed dramatically July 10 when Chad Minnick, a Dahlquist consultant, released Roach’s expense documents, which he received following a public records request.
Hurst sent a press release stating Roach received expense payments from the Senate for her campaign post office box, P.O. Box 682, both for the rental and daily mileage from her home to the mail box.
The post office address is listed on all her campaign ads published by The Courier-Herald from the 2010 campaign to her current 2014 campaign.
The expense reports also list payments for a cell phone, 253-797-2424, that Hurst alleges is used for her campaign.
A campaign ad from 2010 for the C4L lobbying barbecue appears to be the only instance of Roach using the 253-797-2424 number.
In the ads published by The Courier-Herald from 2010 to the present, Roach used her home number in all.
According to Roach she used 206-473-2505 cell phone for her campaign.
The expense report does not designate which cell phone is being reimbursed.
In an email between Minnick and Senate counsel Keith Buchholz said the senate reimburses for the 2424 number.
During a nearly three-hour interview Friday, Roach said the post office box in question is for personal use.
“The post office box is my box,” she said. “It is not the state’s box.”
The senator said she receives personal, legislative and campaign mail, including checks, at P.O. Box 682.
“It isn’t a state mail box but I’m charging them a little rent because they put mail in there,” Roach said. “I am allowing the state to send mail to me. Sometimes the state gets to pay me rent because I’m letting their mail go there. That’s how I look at this.”
Roach also charges the state roundtrip mileage to the post office to pick up the mail, 22 miles that calculates to $12.32 per trip.
“The only reason I go on a daily basis is because I have legislative stuff I know is there,” Roach said. “I go to Auburn for a lot reasons. All you have to do is look at my poor car and look at the mileage on it.”
Roach said multiple times during Friday’s interview her expense reports are not her responsibility; rather, it’s Secretary of the Senate Hunter Goodman and the staff reimbursing her for the expenses.
“If there had been a problem they would have said something to me,” Roach said. “(These) policies have long been established. Everything is properly done. The responsibility for this goes to the person writing the check.”
Roach also said she does not enter the expense items but that her legislative aide does.
“I never see the report,” Roach said. "It didn’t used to be that way. Before everything was electronic I would look at it and sign it.”
Both Roach and Dahlquist said they do not receive mail at a post office box, but at their district office.
Roach was questioned about an entry from Feb. 26 for two entries to a sportsman event. One listed as Sportsman’s Event Salem, 322 miles, $180.32, and the other as Sportsmen’s Caucus, 327 miles, for $183.12.
She added if there was a problem a staff member working for Goodman would have called.
“That didn’t occur. I was doing state business and there you go,” Roach said.
She called her aide and asked her to check the entry. The next day the aide sent an email stating she made a clerical error and wrote to Goodman, “I owe the Senate $183.12 for the duplicate trip.” She added Roach does not review the reimbursement request.
Roach was asked through email how mileage is calculated and reported to her aide. She wrote she did not know but believes Google is used, “figuring in the side trips if it is not a straight shot.”
Dahlquist said she uses MapQuest and a legislative assistant enters the data, “Then I approve it. She could submit it without me seeing it, but I want to see it."
Roach raised the issue that Hurst and Dahlquist rent their district office from Sound Publishing, owner of The Courier-Herald.
Roach said the two representatives “have a financial arrangement with the newspaper. I think that reeks.”
Dahlquist and Hurst each pay $235 for their offices and the campaign office is $180, which the two share.
The representatives are reimbursed for by the House for their district offices and the candidates pay for campaign offices.
The senator's district office is located at her home property on Green Valley Road and she does not request reimbursement. She said her campaign office is in Sumner.
In terms of the cell phone allegation, Roach said, “We all know we have to be very careful and I certainly am,” Roach said. “And so the point here is you can try to make sure everyone knows. It’s never going to be foolproof, which is why the senate allows something called de minimis use – not a major thing. I try the best I can.”
Neither Hurst nor Dahlquist have a legislative cell phone.
Dahlquist said she uses her phone for legislative, personal and campaign issues and it would be a violation to charge the state.
Hurst said it is too difficult to separate cell phones.
“It isn’t worth it,” Hurst said. “If I make one mistake I’m in violation of the law.”
An email sent to Goodman concerning the responsibility of members' expense reports was answered by Buchholz Monday because Goodman was out.
"The Senate operates on an honor system," Buchholz wrote. "We receive members’ statements for reimbursements and review them for basic compliance with policy."
Buchholz added the staff also does not monitor campaigns.
"As we are prohibited from using state funds in supporting or opposing campaign activity, we believe that we would quickly be accused of crossing that line if we engaged in monitoring activity," he wrote.
Buchholz said there was one exception, "…as with other state employees, we are required to take action if we believe that state funds are being used to support campaign activity. I work closely with members and staff to address possible violations, whenever we receive information that suggests that a misuse of funds may be happening."
Both Hurst and Dahlquist said all expense reports are seen and approved by them prior to submission to the House.
Dahlquist said she is responsible for her expense report.
"I have to approve it because the money comes to me," she said.
Multiple accusations from each campaign have been leveled, from attempts to fix who is on the ballot to campaign contributions.
Most appear to be political rumors and inside Olympia talk.
When Roach was initially called about the expense report allegations she said the "real story" was Hurst.
Roach brought up an issue between John Torres and Hurst that she felt was the most important issue.
"I think the story should be that a member of the State House of Representatives repeatedly called someone and urged them not to run," Roach said.
Torres filed a police report alleging extortion and harassment, naming Hurst. An Auburn police report appeared to uphold Hurst's side of the story and charges were not filed.
Roach said during the Friday interview she had not read the police report, but said Torres filed a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Board that she delivered to Olympia.
Hurst said Roach's approach with the Torres' allegation is to use character assassination.
"Pam will attack and try to destroy anyone," Hurst said. "If she can destroy my reputation as a (former) police officer then she thinks Cathy (Dahlquist) and I can't work together on the campaign. People will know the truth about Pam. I'm not afraid of her. Voters need to know who she really is."
Roach countered, saying, "He is using the character assassination, as is usually the case in an election year. In the last 12 years there has not been one of my opponents that has ever brought up a vote I've taken. It's all about coming after me."
She said she works harder than anyone and is a leader.
"I think the things I have been doing is good stuff," Roach said.
Dahlquist said she decided to challenge Roach, "Because I saw what she actually does in Olympia. I thought it was the right thing to do to give all the people a voice back in Olympia."