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Inslee Accuses Republicans Of 'Friday Massacre'

Austin Jenkins NW News Network
Washington Governor Jay Inslee gestures during a news conference to express his ire over the state Senate's vote to oust his Secretary of Transportation

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee took the gloves off Monday and launched a full-throated attack on Senate Republicans for sacking his Secretary of Transportation in a surprise move last Friday afternoon. 

Inslee, a Democrat, called the vote not to confirm Lynn Peterson after three years in the job a "Friday massacre" and a "decapitation." 

"This was obviously a gross abuse of the confirmation process and it was built on a totally false narrative," said Inslee. 

At times during his news conference, a clearly agitated Inslee jabbed the air and gestured with his arms. He also singled out key Republican state senators.

Inslee saved some of his hottest rhetoric for Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, noting that King had just last month praised Peterson and last year his committee unanimously recommended she be confirmed the post. 

"What happened, Senator King?" asked Inslee rhetorically. "Why couldn't you address your newfound concerns that sprung up whole cloth directly to the Secretary? One would think that a person that would vote to fire somebody on a Friday afternoon might talk to the them on a Thursday about their concerns."

Senator loses sleep over firing

In response King said, "There are a couple of ways that this [could have been] done. You can have those conversations ... or you can do it kind of the way we did it on Friday. My caucus chose to do it the way that we did it on Friday."

King acknowledge losing some sleep over the firing of Peterson.

"This is a very serious thing and I don't take it lightly," King said.

As for last year's recommendation to confirm Peterson out of committee, King said that was simply a way to get her confirmation before the entire state Senate.

"It is not necessarily an endorsement of the individual," King said. He added that while he has publicly praised Peterson, his lack of confidence in her leadership should not comes as a total surprise to Peterson or the governor. 

"I think we have expressed on numerous occasions our concerns and most of them have been in written form," said King, who listed minority business and Sound Transit contracting among his concerns.

Senate Republicans on Friday said they turned down Peterson's confirmation over concerns about I-405 tolling, delays with the Seattle tunnel project and a general lack of confidence in her ability to shepherd a newly passed 16-year, $16 billion transportation package to fruition. 

'Election year stunt'

Inslee, in turn, credited Peterson for halting work on tunnel boring after a major sinkhole developed, for playing a key role in securing the transportation package in the legislature last year and for implementing something called "practical design" to save money on transportation projects.

The governor also praised Peterson for her work to rapidly build the Skagit River bridge after it collapsed in May of 2013. It took four months to construct a replacement bridge

"And now they say suddenly she's an incompetent," said Inslee. "Poppycock. Bull feathers. This is an election year stunt."

In response, state Senator Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, took to Twitter to assail Inslee.

"Jay Inslee's press conference tantrum: What happens when you put a backbencher from Congress in charge of leading state government," Baumgartner tweeted.

Inslee also used his news conference to express surprise at the sudden resignation Saturday of his Secretary of Corrections Dan Pacholke. He said Pacholke is still on duty while a transition plan develops.

Inslee ended his news conference on a more conciliatory note, pledging to work with lawmakers over the remaining days of the 60-day legislative session.

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."