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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Senate Majority Leader Regrets Using ‘Racist’ To Describe Fired WSDOT Secretary

Washington Legislature/WSDOT
Washington Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, left, said calling ousted state Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson a racist was a ''poor use of words.''

The Republican leader of the Washington Senate said he regrets using the word “racist” to describe ousted Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson.

The comment followed a Senate vote Friday afternoon not to confirm Peterson to the job three years after she was appointed. Senator Mark Schoesler used the word after showing a reporter a letter from the state’s Civil Rights Coalition. It complained Peterson was more concerned about supporting women-owned businesses than minority-owned businesses.

Democrats immediately reacted to the comment.

“A racist, for what? She’s trying to bring people together,” Democrat Steve Hobbs said. “She’s been trying really hard to have minority-owned businesses be a participant in our transportation package.”

Soon after, Republican Ann Rivers was asked about Schoesler’s comment and disavowed it.

“Oh, I wouldn’t agree with that at all. I don’t agree with that,” Rivers said. “I think as we look at minority-owned businesses we have to take extra steps to make sure that we are meeting federal mandates.”

Schoesler said it was a “poor use of words” in the “heat of battle” as Republicans and Democrats were raising their voices to be heard by reporters.

In a statement, the Department of Transportation said “any suggestion that Secretary Peterson is racist is absurd.”

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."