Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday morning blasted state Senate Republicans for ousting Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson last week, calling the move “scurrilous, underhanded, dishonest.”
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee Monday blasted state Senate Republicans for ousting Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson last week, calling the move “scurrilous, underhanded, dishonest.”
Speaking at a news conference, Inslee described himself as “deeply disturbed” by the GOP-controlled Senate’s vote to reject Peterson’s confirmation — three years after she was appointed to the job.
“Senate Republicans should be ashamed of what they did last Friday,” Inslee said, adding later: “This is an election-year stunt.”
The move Friday to effectively fire Peterson — which came as a vote to officially deny her confirmation as secretary — came as a surprise to Democrats. Inslee and Democratic lawmakers have accused Republicans of making a political show of it.
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It prompted Inslee on Monday to call out a handful of GOP state senators by name for not stopping the vote. The governor also read aloud remarks made last month by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, praising and thanking Peterson for her work.
“Some kind of thank you from Sen. Curtis King, who sat there silently and watched his colleagues remove an effective transportation secretary,” Inslee said.
In a written statement, King responded by saying that Inslee “must be the only person in Washington who was surprised.”
“For my own part, I have sent multiple letters to the former transportation secretary since 2013 expressing my concerns and lack of confidence over a number of issues,” King wrote. “I think the biggest surprise to drivers in this state is that it took this long for a change to be made.”
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, blamed Inslee’s appointees for problems at state Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
“Of course the governor is upset,” Schoesler said in a statement Monday. “Three of the biggest state agencies under his control … have been making headlines because of huge management problems that happened under people he hand-picked — people who are now all gone for one reason or another.”
Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke resigned Saturday amid controversy over the state’s mistaken early release of certain violent criminals.
DSHS Secretary Kevin Quigley announced his resignation this past month. The state has been under court orders to improve how it treats some people with mental-health problems and has struggled to add beds and staff to Western State Hospital, a state psychiatric facility.
Schoesler noted that the Senate has confirmed Inslee’s choice to lead the Department of Revenue.
During the two-hour debate Friday, Democrats praised Peterson for her quick and personal response to the Skagit River bridge collapse and Oso mudslide.
And Democratic lawmakers Monday continued to question Republicans’ priorities at a time when the state is in contempt by failing to provide an adequate plan to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary K-12 education-funding decision.
“Anything but education,” Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island said in a regularly scheduled news conference. “It’s like Department of Corrections, it’s transportation, I don’t know what they’re going to bring up next.”
But Republican senators have blasted WSDOT, citing frustration about Interstate 405 toll lanes, delays in the Highway 99 tunnel project and problems with the ferry system.
With Peterson’s departure, Deputy Transportation Secretary Roger Millar is in charge of WSDOT, Inslee said.
Pacholke’s sudden departure came less than two months after the DOC acknowledged that for more than a decade it miscalculated sentences and released some inmates too early.
The problem was discovered in 2012, but a planned software fix was delayed 16 times and never made. Bernie Warner, who was corrections secretary at the time, has said he did not know of the problem.
Inslee and Pacholke — who was appointed secretary in October — have said they didn’t learn of the problem until mid-December.
Inslee said Monday that Pacholke’s resignation came as a surprise. Inslee said the secretary is still running the agency for now and the governor’s office would discuss transition plans with him.
“I notify you now of my resignation. I hope it helps meet your need for blood,” Pacholke wrote in an email to Sen. Mike Padden, the Spokane Valley Republican who has led a push to subpoena DOC records as part of an investigation separate from one ordered by Inslee.
Padden said Monday he was also surprised by Pacholke’s departure.
“While I’m disappointed in the inflammatory language that he used,” Padden said, “I really have no bitterness toward the secretary.”