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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."

Inslee's 'All Staff' Rebuke Of Republicans

Wikimedia -
File photo of the Washington state Senate chamber.

In the aftermath of last Friday's vote by the Republican-led Washington Senate not to confirm Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson, essentially firing her on the spot, an email went out to all staff at the Department of Transportation.

The email was sent by Deputy Secretary Roger Millar on behalf of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

The subject line read "This afternoon's legislative Senate floor debate and next steps."

The email opened, "Today's vote by Senate Republicans to reject Secretary Peterson's confirmation is a blatant misuse of the confirmation process for political purposes, and their disparaging remarks about her character are absolutely unfitting of the office they hold."

It went on to accuse Republicans of a "shameful act" and then highlighted the praise Democratic state senators offered in their floor speeches for the work of WSDOT employees.

The email concluded, "let's not allow the Senate Republicans to distract us."

To be sure, this was not your typical "all staff" email to an agency from a governor. And at least one Republican took note.

In a letter last week to Inslee, House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, wrote, "The language used was unnecessarily political in nature and a questionable use of state resources."

That was a reference to state law that prohibits the use of state resources for political campaigns. Specifically the law says "No state officer or state employee may use ... facilities of an agency, directly or indirectly, for the purposes of assisting a campaign for election of a person to an office."

Inslee is up for re-election this year. But clearly, his email was not a direct campaign communication. And there are exceptions to the law, including "Activities that are part of the normal activity and conduct of the office or agency."

Here's what Inslee's communications director Jaime Smith wrote in regard to Kristiansen's questioning of the governor's language: "It's appropriate for the governor to write to his employees explaining who, how and why their secretary is no longer there."

She closed our her statement by saying, "We're getting on with the business at hand."

In fact, Inslee has since appointed Millar as acting secretary of transportation.

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."