Sparks fly during senatorial debate

By Dennis Box-The Courier-Herald

State Sen. Pam Roach and challenger Yvonne Ward sparred throughout a 90-minute debate before a packed house at the Enumclaw High School auditorium Oct. 25 and the results were both informative and fiery.

Ward, an Auburn lawyer, and 16-year incumbent Roach, are battling for the 31st District Senate seat. The 43-year-old Ward, the Democratic challenger, and Roach, 58, a Republican from Auburn, also met in 2004 when Roach came out on top 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent.

The two candidates have fought through forums, mailings and ads, but The Courier-Herald-sponsored debate was the first toe-to-toe meeting, and the fireworks flew across the stage as the two drew contrasts on issues both political and personal.

The night began with Ward offering her hand to Roach on stage. The senator refused to shake and accused Ward of lying about her - and the game was on.

The audience was vocal for both candidates, but by sound there appeared to be more Ward supporters. Both candidates received applause and boos at various times during the evening, and each handled adversity like a seasoned club fighter.

Opening statements were tame, but by the first question about growth on the Plateau the blows began.

Roach brought up the growth issues that swirled around the mayoral battle in Bonney Lake in 2005.

“There's a new government in Bonney Lake that ran on a platform of controlled growth,” Roach said. “Mayor (Neil) Johnson has endorsed me, as have the City Council.”

Ward said local government has been “unwilling or unable to control growth” and she accused Roach of being heavily funded by developers.

Roach countered with the point that local government controls growth.

Because of huge growth in the Bonney Lake area, Road said, city voters ousted their mayor. “It was a rout,” Roach said.

Ward said then-mayor Bob Young was in the “pocket of developers” and was Roach's legislative aide. She accused Roach and Young of working “together on a plan to eliminate from the GMA (Growth Management Act) the ability to control our communities.”

Roach shot back, while answering another question, that she hired Young for a couple of months, but “fired him, and we never talked about development at all. Watch what she says because most of it is simply not true.”

Both candidates repeatedly accused the other of being influenced by special interest money.

Ward said Roach's campaign is backed by political action committees and developers.

“I've run for the state Senate five times,” Roach said. “That's my special interest, your interest.”

Roach hammered at Ward for receiving money from trial lawyers, holding up a five-page document to the audience that listed Ward's contributors.

Ward said she was proud that her colleagues support her and that trial lawyers help average citizens.

“I don't need this job,” Ward said. “I'm losing money doing this. I'm doing it because we need change.”

Both candidates came down chilly on the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning).

“The WASL cost $100 million to administer,” Ward said. “It is of questionable value as a one-size-fits-all test and it is hurting our kids. I will do something the legislators have been unwilling to do. I will take it on and redirect those resources.”

Roach said she voted against the original bill, “and that started what ended up giving us the WASL.... This is an experiment and we need to think in a more global sense.”

Both candidates showed a thorough grasp of issues before them, and an equally impressive ability to throw and receive body blows.

Ward brought up the issue of Roach being “reprimanded three times by her own (legislative) colleagues.”

Roach shot back with a smile, “I am going to defend myself.”

The senator blamed the reprimands on a feud with then Senate Majority Leader Jim West, a fellow Republican.

Ward accused Roach of smearing her and said, “Since you say you're way ahead in the polls.... Why don't you stop the negative attack ads against me on television and in print.”

In her closing remarks Roach held up a police report involving Ward and one of her clients. Roach alleged Ward might be charged with obstructing a code enforcement officer's duties.

“You need to know that personalities that have problems do not belong in the Legislature,” Roach said.

In an earlier interview, Ward said she was representing her client and “I did nothing illegal.... I had a right to be there.”

Ward said there is an ongoing lawsuit involving her client and the city of Auburn.

Dan Heid, attorney for Auburn, said the report had been forwarded to the Kent city attorney to decide if obstruction charges were warranted. As of Friday, Heid said he knew of no charges being filed in the case.

Roach ended the night by saying the Legislature “is a delicate balance of individuals and you have to be able to work with the individuals down there.”

Ward said in closing, “We now know our state is in crises in education. We know our state is in crises with growth. Let's get beyond the personal attacks. My commitment is to you.”

Dennis Box can be reached at

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