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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

February 9, 2015 at 3:40 PM

Lawmakers air their own beefs with ethics investigations

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen took his grievances with the state’s ethics-investigations process to a Senate panel Monday, where he got a sympathetic hearing from some state senators who’ve faced their own ethics complaints.

As we wrote for Monday’s paper, Owen remains steamed at a $15,000 fine he received last year as part of a settlement with the state Executive Ethics Board over his mingling of official work with his anti-bullying nonprofit organization, Strategies for Youth.

Owen is pushing legislation to revamp the ethics process to give accused officials a better shot at defending themselves. He’s behind one bill that would stop the Attorney General’s office from aiding ethics-board investigations, requiring the office instead to represent accused officials in such cases. Another bill would broaden the the job description of state officials, including Owen, to allow them to work closely with nonprofits.

At a hearing before the state Senate Government Operations and Security Committee, some lawmakers turned Owen’s complaints into tales of their own victimization by ethics probes, saying the bill should be expanded to protect them.

Committee chair Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, and her frequent political ally, Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, bashed the state Senate’s internal investigations of their behavior in recent years.

Benton called the Senate’s internal investigations, by the Finance and Operations Committee, “dictatorial” and “very similar to a star chamber.” He was faulted last year for his part in some run-ins with fellow state Sen. Ann Rivers.

Roach, who was forced to repay the state Senate $4,500 last summer over improper mileage reimbursements after a complaint by political opponents, gave a lengthy tirade about her own travails. “I was put through hell,” she said.

Roach cut off David Horn, chief deputy to Attorney General Bob Ferguson, when Horn said Owen had received due process and could have chosen to contest the ethics-board findings at a court-like hearing. Instead, Owen chose to enter settlement talks. “He chose not to take it to a hearing,” he said.

Roach wasn’t having any of that, interrupting Horn with a tirade about the expense of pursuing such hearings. “Everybody listen here. People are not wealthy. These are not corporations,” she said.

“I’m not listening to this. I’ve been through this process and I know very well that person who’s on the hot seat does not get fairness,” Roach said. “Been there. Done that.”

“Not due process. Not due process,” Benton chimed in.

Watch the exchange between Roach and Horn here:

Comments | More in Attorney General, Politics Northwest, State government, State Legislature | Topics: Executive Ethics Board, Lt. Governor Brad Owen, State Sen. Don Benton

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