After three years on the job, Washington State Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson’s employment has been abruptly terminated — though not by Governor Jay Inslee, the chief executive who hired her and who she reports to by law.
Instead, in a stunning turn of events, Peterson is being forced to pack her bags by the vindictive, games-playing Senate Republican caucus, who failed to hold a timely vote on Peterson’s confirmation following her appointment three years ago, but have now suddenly decided to deny her confirmation to score political points.
By voting not to confirm Peterson, the Republicans have forced her out. She won’t be able to continue in her duties as WSDOT’s chief executive, nor will she be able to continue her service on Sound Transit’s Board of Directors.
Republicans tried to justify their outrageous move by claiming that WSDOT needs new leadership. But that isn’t what they were saying back in 2015, when Peterson was unanimously recommended for confirmation in committee.
In fact, on June 24th, 2015, when Peterson appeared before the Republican-controlled Senate Transportation Committee at the time Democrats and Republicans were negotiating the Connecting Washington transportation package, this is what Republican Chairman Curtis King of Yakima said to her:
I want to thank you for the job that you’ve done over the last two – two and a half years, whatever that number is. And I can’t say thank you enough to the staff that you have behind you. I think I have met and talked with every one of them. They are a dedicated group of people who I believer are here to do the right things for the citizens of the State of Washington, and I think they have shown that example on numerous occasions. So thank you for that.
Considering what King and his colleagues were saying about Peterson just a few months ago, today’s vote to deny Peterson confirmation — which Senate Democrats fought valiantly to stop — seems like a betrayal.
It certainly amounted to unprofessional, shameful conduct. Senate Republicans gave Peterson no opportunity to defend herself or answer the charges they laid at her door. They did not move a no confidence recommendation against Peterson through committee, did not provide advance warning to their Democratic counterparts or to Governor Inslee, and did not allow members of the public to weigh in.
Instead, they plotted in back rooms to oust Peterson and then proceeded to to carry out their plan on the floor of the Senate.
Democrats were furious.
“Senate Republicans today took an action wholly unfitting of the expectations of the people of this state,” said an outraged Governor Jay Inslee. “They engaged in a politically-motivated attack on an eminently qualified woman.”
“As disappointing as this display of partisan politics is to me, I am even more deeply and personally offended by Senator Schoesler’s unfounded, scurrilous and outrageous outburst that Secretary Peterson is a racist,” Inslee added.
“This personal insult, uttered in the Senate chambers, is simply inexcusable and not worthy of his position as a leader in the Senate.”
“Lynn Peterson has led the most successful effort in years to promote opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses by pushing hard to make sure that women- and minority-owned businesses get a fair chance to compete for transportation projects. We can only wonder what the Senate Republicans’ next politically motivated attack will be.”
“I’m sitting on the Senate floor in shock and disbelief that Republicans are going to sack WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson for purely political reasons,” wrote Senator Marko Liias (D‑21st District) in a Facebook posting during the minutes leading up to the vote. “Such a grave injustice for an amazing leader.”
House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn also voiced her dismay.
“This move comes after strong leadership from Secretary Peterson under very challenging circumstances,” Clibborn said. “It comes after the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved her nomination. It comes after decades of latitude granted to Governors of both parties to select the leaders of their agencies.
“If there was any doubt remaining, it should be clear now – hardline, D.C.-style gridlock has arrived in our Washington. After reaching a bipartisan agreement to invest $16 billion in our transportation system just a session ago, it is shocking and deeply troubling to see Senate Republicans undermine that work by removing the head of agency responsible for carrying it out.”
“Critical traffic relief, thousands of Washington jobs, and the health and wellbeing of our economy are being put at risk for motives that can only be described as partisan. Senate Republicans have put their political frustrations above the needs of the people of Washington. Lynn Peterson is the scapegoat for their inability to dictate policy to the rest of our divided government, and the businesses and commuters of Washington will suffer because of their actions.”
“This shameful act impedes the state’s ability to do the people’s business and keep people safe,” agreed State Democratic Party Chair Jaxon Ravens. “Less than a year after Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a $15 billion transportation package, this political maneuver only undermines the ability to deliver these much-needed transportation projects on-time and on-budget.”
The roll call vote to deny Lynn Peterson’s confirmation was as follows:
Senate vote on confirmation
Yeas: 21; Nays: 25; Excused: 3
Voting Yea: Senators Carlyle, Chase, Cleveland, Conway, Darneille, Fraser, Frockt, Habib, Hargrove, Hasegawa, Hobbs, Jayapal, Keiser, Liias, McAuliffe, McCoy, Mullet, Nelson, Pedersen, Rolfes, Takko
Voting Nay: Senators Angel, Bailey, Baumgartner, Becker, Benton, Braun, Brown, Dammeier, Dansel, Ericksen, Fain, Hewitt, Hill, Honeyford, King, Litzow, Miloscia, O’Ban, Padden, Parlette, Pearson, Rivers, Schoesler, Sheldon, Warnick
Excused: Senators Billig, Ranker, Roach
We join Governor Inslee in strongly condemning today’s disgraceful action by Senate Republicans. Lynn Peterson was a devoted public servant who had the difficult, unenviable task of trying to run and improve the Washington State Department of Transportation. WSDOT has issues, but Peterson was a competent, qualified administrator… by Senate Republicans’ own admission.
Peterson simply doesn’t deserve the bile that was lobbed at her today. Senate Republicans should be ashamed of the way they have treated her.
We wish her the best in her efforts to land on her feet. We’ll miss her.