Washingtonians deserve better leadership than they’ve been getting from Olympia recently.
WASHINGTON state deserves more thoughtful and dignified leadership than what’s been on display in Olympia lately.
The one-two loss of state department heads on Friday and Saturday in a surge of partisanship and pique marks a new low point for state governance.
First came the state Senate’s abrupt and scalding dismissal of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson on Friday. Then Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke abruptly quit on Saturday.
They followed Kevin Quigley, the Department of Social and Health Services secretary who announced his resignation last month.
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Clearly the administration of Gov. Jay Inslee is in trouble. His three largest agencies — accounting for most of state government — are in limbo. Each has its share of lawsuits and epic problems, including Bertha, Western State Hospital and the prisons’ software glitch.
This raises serious questions about the management skills of Inslee as he gears up for a re-election campaign this fall.
Inslee inherited problems — such as a jail system that released thousands of criminals too early and a health system that’s failed to adequately evaluate and treat the mentally ill — but his first term is nearing its end with ongoing challenges and a management void. Arguably, the problems at the long-troubled Western State Hospital, which is on the brink of federal defunding, have gotten even worse.
Republicans who control the state Senate gleefully added the Department of Transportation to the list of headless agencies on Friday.
They have legitimate concerns about transportation leadership. Mobility is not improving, ideology is influencing decisions and the department has bobbled the Highway 520 bridge project and Interstate 405 tolling.
Senate Transportation Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, said he’s spent years going around with Peterson over questions, such as diversion of state road money to buses in the Seattle area and ranking grants for mobility projects based more on greenhouse-gas reduction and less on reducing delays and increasing connectivity.
In that regard, Friday’s dismissal could also be seen as an attempt to restore balance to and increase accountability of the transportation agency.
But Republicans’ standing on these issues was undermined by their brash and hyperpartisan approach, including over-the-top verbal attacks on Peterson on Friday.
By going too far — and failing to provide basic, standard courtesies, such as a heads-up to Peterson — the Senate Republican majority enabled Inslee and others to dismiss the incident as an election-year stunt.
So instead of initiating an overdue discussion about the Transportation Department’s leadership, performance and accountability, Friday’s move started a political circus.
Both parties are now hunkered down and furious, despite reams of critical, unfinished business, such as progressing on education funding and addressing agency problems that led to cabinet vacancies.
There’s too much to do and too little time in this short legislative session for these games to continue. There are many smart, dedicated people serving in office who can make great progress if they stay on track.
It’s time for all corners of Washington’s Legislature and the governor to shake hands and get back to work fixing the problems at hand.