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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Inslee: Senate Republicans ‘out of control’

Governor blasts ouster of transportation secretary as ‘election-year stunt’

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer
Published: February 8, 2016, 8:20pm

Gov. Jay Inslee kicked off a press conference Monday listing a number of tasks still facing state lawmakers: approving a state budget, addressing public school funding, boosting mental health services.

Then he quickly transitioned into a forceful attack on Senate Republicans for their surprise move Friday firing the head of the state’s Department of Transportation.

Lawmakers are halfway through their 60-day legislative session, and major policy issues have yet to be resolved. Yet on Monday, legislators on both sides of the aisle took a policy detour to engage in a battle of messaging.

Inslee, a Democrat, said the “Senate Republicans are out of control.” He criticized the unexpected ousting of Lynn Peterson as an “election-year stunt.”

The Senate voted not to confirm Peterson, who has been in the role since 2013. The last time the Senate had rejected a gubernatorial appointee in Washington was in 1998, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

In a post on his website, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, wrote that Republicans made it clear that their priority was holding state government accountable.

“The governor acts surprised that we are following through on that,” Schoesler wrote. “If he would hold his agency heads accountable, no one else would need to.”

Republicans have pointed to problems with the Seattle tunnel project and the new state Highway 520 bridge.

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Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, told reporters that there were less dramatic ways to fire a state employee. Republicans’ agenda, she said, appears to be “anything but education.”

State lawmakers are under a state Supreme Court order to fund the state’s public school system. They also are being fined $100,000 a day by the court and are in contempt of court for not tackling the school’s funding crisis.

A day after Peterson was fired, the state’s Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke resigned after it was revealed in December that criminals accidentally had been released early from prison.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said Senate Republicans were participating in D.C.-like political gamesmanship. On Monday, people still were expressing “shock, anger and disbelief,” Cleveland said.

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who cast a vote against confirming Peterson, said on Friday she didn’t anticipate the decision would hurt lawmakers’ chances to work across the aisle.

“We’ll move forward together and the governor will look at all his agencies and his agency heads and make sure they are being accountable to taxpayers. … I think this kind of thing happens and it becomes part of the history,” Rivers said.

In the House, Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver and a member of House Republican leadership, said the Senate was “hush, hush” about their decision to fire Peterson on Friday.

“They certainly didn’t let any of us know,” Harris said.

He’s hopeful lawmakers can continue to work on measures without partisan gridlock.

“Hopefully there won’t be any retaliation,” Harris said. “We’re here to do the people’s work.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Columbian Political Writer