Ann Rivers speaking to KING5

In the wake of yes­ter­day’s sur­prise vote to remove Lynn Peter­son as Wash­ing­ton Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have been asked, again and again, by their Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues as well as by reporters: Why are you doing this?

Dif­fer­ent Repub­li­can sen­a­tors have been giv­ing dif­fer­ent answers, espe­cial­ly in one-on-one inter­views with the press.… even con­tra­dict­ing each oth­er, with some mak­ing inflam­ma­to­ry com­ments. One thing, at least, is quite clear: Repub­li­cans are hav­ing a hard time keep­ing their sto­ry straight. 

Maybe it’s because they can’t agree among them­selves why they did it, or they did­n’t have time to rehearse an agreed-upon nar­ra­tive together.

Or maybe it’s because what they did was an out­ra­geous mis­use of their polit­i­cal pow­er, and they real­ize that, but don’t want to admit it.

You can judge for your­self. Let’s start with top Repub­li­can Mark Schoesler:

Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mark Schoesler, R‑Ritzville, came to the press table after the vote to show reporters a let­ter that was sent by the state Civ­il Rights Coali­tion to the speak­er of the House express­ing con­cern that the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion did­n’t treat the minor­i­ty small busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty fairly.

[Jaime] Smith, the gov­er­nor’s spokes­woman, was stand­ing at the press table and chal­lenged Schoesler on why no one had any indi­ca­tion of the Sen­ate’s plans until moments before it started.

Schoesler ignored her and con­tin­ued talk­ing about the let­ter from the coali­tion that crit­i­cized Peter­son, and he end­ed the con­ver­sa­tion by say­ing “she’s racist,” as he walked away, caus­ing vocal out­rage from Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors and gov­er­nor’s staff who had gath­ered nearby.

“I think that right there says every­thing you need to know,” Smith said.

Empha­sis is mine. Schoesler lame­ly tried to retract his com­ment lat­er, say­ing “I regret my remark in the heat of the scrum at the press table.” Schoesler also told the Asso­ci­at­ed Press that he “spoke things that I prob­a­bly didn’t want to say.” 

Schoesler may real­ly regret his “remark” in the weeks to come. Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee made it plain that Schoesler’s slan­der against Peter­son infu­ri­at­ed him.

It appears Schoesler has poi­soned his work­ing rela­tion­ship with the gov­er­nor and the gov­er­nor’s staff… not a smart thing for a major­i­ty “leader” to do.

In con­trast to Schoesler, my own sen­a­tor, Repub­li­can Andy Hill (R‑45th Dis­trict), said Peter­son­’s dis­missal was noth­ing per­son­al:

“This is not per­son­al. I like Lynn Peter­son. I think she is a good per­son, but I look at results,” Hill said.

Hill, and his col­leagues cit­ed a range of prob­lems on Wash­ing­ton roads, such as tolling on State Route 520, and the express toll lanes on I‑405. Hill said that, at times, the Good-to-Go sys­tem that man­ages tolling is “cus­tomer hos­tile,” and that I‑405’s new tolling sys­tem is “a night­mare.” Oth­ers men­tioned the “deba­cle” of Bertha that, admit­ted­ly, Peter­son inherited.

“My biggest con­cern is the imple­men­ta­tion (of I‑405). It has absolute­ly been abysmal,” Hill said. “(WSDOT) thinks every­thing is going great. And I’m sor­ry — there is no account­abil­i­ty there.”

Hill has some nerve talk­ing about “results” and “account­abil­i­ty” when he and his col­leagues are in con­tempt of court for fail­ing to ful­ly fund our pub­lic schools.

As the Sen­ate’s chief bud­get writer, Hill has come up with some tru­ly awful, unwork­able bud­get pro­pos­als that relied heav­i­ly on gim­micks, account­ing tricks, and phan­tom mar­i­jua­na tax pro­ceeds to bal­ance the books.

Hill & Co. aren’t deliv­er­ing for our kids, and yet here they are, mak­ing a scape­goat out of Sec­re­tary Lynn Peter­son for every­thing that’s wrong with WSDOT.

If the prob­lems with the I‑405 HOT lanes were good enough rea­son to get rid of Lynn Peter­son, then Sen­ate Repub­li­cans’ repeat­ed refusal to work with House Democ­rats to raise the rev­enue that our schools need should be grounds for all of them to lose their jobs. Sen­ate Repub­li­cans are very good at grand­stand­ing and polit­i­cal the­ater, but very bad at get­ting results.

Though Hill insist­ed Lynn Peter­son­’s ouster was about “results” and “account­abil­i­ty”, his col­league Repub­li­can Judy War­nick admit­ted to Yaki­ma Her­ald reporter Mike Faulk that fir­ing Peter­son was about stick­ing it to Inslee:

Asked Sen. War­nick if Peter­son vote was about per­for­mance or just a stick in @GovInslee’s eye: “Maybe a bit of both.” #waleg

Mean­while, Repub­li­can Ann Rivers was say­ing it was­n’t:

No, it’s not pol­i­tics against the Gov­er­nor. This is… uh, I’m sure you’ve seen the media sur­round­ing, uh, the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, from the HOT lanes, to CRC [Colum­bia Riv­er Cross­ing], to bridge col­laps­es… I mean, the list goes on and on.

Bridge col­laps­es!? Peter­son is to blame for the col­lapsed bridges that the Leg­is­la­ture did­n’t have the courage or fore­sight to replace years ago? Wow. Just… wow.

Heck, Peter­son­’s response to the Skag­it Riv­er bridge col­lapse and the Oso mud­slide has won her praise from may­ors in Arling­ton and Mount Ver­non, who sent emails to Sen­ate Repub­li­cans yes­ter­day urg­ing them to keep Peter­son on the job, as Repub­li­cans were on the verge of vot­ing to remove her. May­ors in Puyallup and Ren­ton made sim­i­lar requests. But they were ignored.

Around the same time Rivers and Hill were going around insist­ing it was­n’t pol­i­tics, Repub­li­can Michael Baum­gart­ner, one of the more extreme mem­bers of the cau­cus, was busy taunt­ing the Inslee admin­is­tra­tion on Twit­ter:

Note to oth­er Inslee Appointees: Shape up, Do your job. Serve the peo­ple w account­abil­i­ty. Or more heads are going to roll. #waleg

Asked by The Seat­tle Times why he turned on Peter­son, Trans­porta­tion Chair Cur­tis King ini­tial­ly said it was because she mis­man­aged the I‑405 HOT lanes rollout.

Sen­ate Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee Chair­man Cur­tis King, R‑Yakima, was accused by Democ­rats of flip-flop­ping. King had told Peter­son in com­mit­tee last year: “I want to thank you for the job you have done over the past two and half years, and I can’t say thank you enough to the staff that you have behind you.”

King says his view shift­ed last fall when WSDOT staffers sound­ed blasé about com­plaints dur­ing the I‑405 toll start­up. “It’s like, ‘We’re han­dling things real­ly well, things are going fine,’ yet there are sig­na­tures from 22,000 peo­ple say­ing this is garbage,” he said in a phone inter­view while dri­ving home via White Pass.

But then he piv­ot­ed and said Peter­son was­n’t enough of a road warrior.

He also said Peter­son is mak­ing it too cheap for Sound Tran­sit to acquire right of way along state roads.

“She’s very par­tial to tran­sit, very par­tial to bike and pedes­tri­an paths, all those things,” King said. “We need to pro­tect the cit­i­zens that want to trav­el on our roads. That’s why we’re there. We need to pro­tect the abil­i­ty of peo­ple to use our roads, use their cars. From the get-go, she was about mov­ing peo­ple on tran­sit, mov­ing peo­ple on light rail.”

King’s account of why he changed his mind about Peter­son does­n’t make sense.

If, “from the get-go”, Peter­son­’s par­tial­i­ty to tran­sit was a prob­lem for King, why did­n’t King object to Peter­son­’s con­fir­ma­tion last year when it was in com­mit­tee? Peter­son had already been on the job for two years at that point. Last June, King seem­ing­ly had noth­ing but praise and appre­ci­a­tion for Peter­son, while Con­nect­ing Wash­ing­ton was being nego­ti­at­ed. Now he’s unload­ing on her.

And what’s wrong with mov­ing peo­ple on tran­sit and light rail? It’s a good thing when we reduce con­ges­tion by pro­vid­ing com­muters with reli­able tran­sit options.

We no longer have a Depart­ment of High­ways. We have a Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion. Fer­ries, freight mobil­i­ty, and pas­sen­ger rail are all with­in the purview of WSDOT — as are mul­ti­modal projects that give Wash­ing­to­ni­ans choic­es, so they’re not forced to dri­ve to get where they need to go.

That said, WSDOT is still def­i­nite­ly a high­ways-cen­tric agency. Lynn Peter­son did­n’t change that. But appar­ent­ly not high­way-cen­tric enough for Cur­tis King.

We have to won­der: who’s going to want the job of lead­ing the Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion now that Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have fired Lynn Peter­son with­out giv­ing her an oppor­tu­ni­ty to defend her­self, and with­out any notice to Sen­ate Democ­rats, Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee, WSDOT, or the public?

Giv­en what hap­pened to Peter­son, how is Inslee sup­posed to recruit a high-cal­iber replace­ment to lead WSDOT? Who’s going to want to come here to deal with the row­dy, reck­less, torch and pitch­fork-wield­ing Sen­ate Repub­li­cans? Who’s going to want to be pro­mot­ed from within?

Even after Sen­ate Democ­rats repeat­ed­ly warned them of the dam­age their rash, reck­less actions would inflict on the Sen­ate floor, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans went ahead and got rid of Peter­son any­way. That real­ly says something.

The Sen­ate Repub­li­cans have proved time and again that they are more inter­est­ed in win­ning elec­tions and increas­ing their polit­i­cal pow­er than governing.

They have their sights set on win­ning a major­i­ty in the House this fall (in addi­tion to keep­ing their slim Sen­ate major­i­ty), and it’s evi­dent they’re try­ing to build an anti-Inslee nar­ra­tive for their can­di­dates. They don’t care if they hurt the state in the process. And amaz­ing­ly, they don’t even seem to care about hav­ing a coher­ent, defen­si­ble jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for their actions, as their com­ments yes­ter­day demonstrate.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “Senate Republicans trip all over themselves trying to explain Lynn Peterson’s ouster”

  1. I am entire­ly out­raged and dis­gust­ed with this “Major­i­ty Coali­tion Cau­cus”. It is a body of liars and cheaters who care noth­ing for the com­mon good and every­thing with their puerile and detestable agen­da. There is absolute­ly no Repub­li­can in the Sen­ate that I have ANY respect for in any way. And Tim Shel­don. There are spe­cial places in hell for trai­tors and cheaters…and he cer­tain­ly is both. I hope the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton see the Repub­li­cans for what they tru­ly are. A bunch of liars, hyp­ocrites, and greedy sons of bitch­es with delu­sions of fas­cist wet dreams.

  2. This just shows that the Repub­li­cans in Olympia are inter­est­ed in paving over the entire state rather than invest­ing in real alter­na­tives to trans­porta­tion by pri­vate car. All the oth­er stuff they said about the sec­re­tary is unbe­liev­able, true enough, but they showed their true col­ors about what they want WSDOT to do–and not to do.

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