Gov. Jay Inslee criticized Senate Republicans on Monday for ousting Washington Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson, describing the rejection of her confirmation as an “election year stunt” for which he said Republicans should be “ashamed.”
On Friday afternoon, the Senate voted 21-25 not to confirm Peterson three years after she was appointed to the position by the governor. She has already left her post and the agency is currently being led by Deputy Secretary Roger Millar.
Inslee criticized specific legislators at the press conference, including Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Sen. Curtis King and Sen. Andy Hill, R-Kirkland, saying they had taken part in a “political ambush.”
“Senator Hill and other Senators could have talked to Secretary Peterson about any concerns they had,” Inslee said. “They did not. They chose to sandbag her on the floor on a Friday afternoon.”
Inslee said King has previously praised the transportation secretary, then was silent as he watched “his colleagues take her head off on a Friday massacre.”
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler never raised concerns about Peterson either, Inslee said, even during a discussion about WSDOT data last week.
“I asked him to provide us any information he had that he was concerned about,” said Inslee. “He just shrugged it off.”
Inslee said that Friday was an obvious “gross abuse” of the confirmation process and it was “built on a totally false narrative.”
The governor said the Senate Republicans were doing the same with their investigation of the Department of Corrections. DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke resigned on Saturday afternoon, writing in his resignation letter that he hoped it would satisfy a “need for blood.”
At a press conference on Monday, Senate Republicans responded to Inslee’s harsh comments.
Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, said the Senate’s vote should not come as a surprise, given that people across the state are dissatisfied by WSDOT’s performance.
“I think that it’s almost an open secret in this town that many people were dissatisfied with Department of Transportation and her leadership,” he said. “This has been building as long as I’ve been here.”
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, said the issue comes down to whether or not people have confidence in WSDOT.
“We entrusted to that department, at the close of the last session, $15 billion worth of projects,” O’Ban said. “And it was the beginning of this session we had to ask ourselves ‘Do we have the confidence in this department head to manage those projects?’ Those projects are so crucial to our state and it was the conclusion of the caucus that we did not have that confidence. So we needed to make that change as soon as we could.”
Senate Republicans said they were surprised by Pacholke’s resignation, and they plan to move forward with their investigation into why the DOC mistakenly released 3,200 prisoners early over 13 years. O’ban said the Senate has already received complaints — including some anonymous tips — submitted through a website created for the Senate investigation, www.fixdoc.org.
“This investigation of the Senate has given a voice to Department of Correction employees, who for a long time have been concerned about upper management,” O’Ban said. The Senate Law and Justice Committee will have an update on the DOC investigation during Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. hearing.
Sen. Sharon Nelson, D- Maury Island, also commented on Friday’s Senate vote at a press conference on Monday. She said their actions were dramatic and it could lead to other agency heads questioning their future.
“When you do something like that you destabilize an agency,” she said. “Because there’s an element of fear and concern in the way it was done.”