- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday blasted Senate Republicans for ousting the head of the Department of Transportation, calling the surprise vote on the Senate floor “an election-year stunt.”

A clearly angry Inslee said, “Senate Republicans are out of control at this moment.”

“They need to pull out of this dive and help us find solutions to our challenges,” he said at a news conference.

The rare move was taken by the Senate as majority Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted 25-21 against confirming Lynn Peterson’s 2013 appointment.

The Washington state Senate can confirm or reject gubernatorial appointments to the cabinet, and appointees can serve if the Senate takes no action to confirm. The last Senate rejection of a gubernatorial appointee in the state was in 1998.

Inslee, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year, said he had met with Republican leaders just last week and while there was mention of concern over some transportation data, no mention was made of their intentions with Peterson.

Inslee called out several Republicans by name, including Sen. Curtis King of Yakima, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Inslee read several statements that King had made at a previous hearing in which he praised Peterson and thanked her for her work.

“He never raised these issues with her and went out there and sat and watched his colleagues take her head off on a Friday massacre,” Inslee said. “This was obviously a gross misuse of the confirmation process.”

But King said Monday that he’s had numerous conversations with Peterson’s staff and has sent letters directly to Peterson expressing concern over a variety of issues, and he issued a news release linking to copies of the letters that date back to 2013.

King said Peterson’s removal “was the right move to make.”

“It’s been one problem after another,” he said in a phone interview.

Peterson, who came to Washington after working as a transportation adviser to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, has had a tenure filled with controversy over problems such as delays on the new 520 bridge and the ongoing troubles with the Seattle tunnel project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Inslee said that lawmakers could have worked directly with Peterson and the governor’s office to address their concerns, he said.

“Not one single Republican senator at any time has come to me and suggested we need new leadership at the department of transportation,” he said. “That is not partnership, that is political gamesmanship.”

Inslee said Deputy Secretary Roger Millar is in charge at the agency and there is no timeline yet on when a decision will be made on a new appointment.

Inslee also said that the resignation of Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke over the weekend was a surprise to him. Pacholke’s departure comes amid a controversy over the erroneous early release of prisoners.

Inslee said Pacholke is still on the job until they work out the transition process.

In a written statement Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said that if Inslee “would hold his agency heads accountable, no one else would need to.”

Schoesler noted Pacholke’s resignation as well as the recent departure of the head of the Department of Social and Health Services in the midst of court mandates related to Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric facility.

“He can’t blame our Senate majority for the scandal involving Western State Hospital, or for the felon-release fiasco at DOC, so naturally most of his anger this morning was directed at our vote to not confirm Lynn Peterson as secretary of transportation,” Schoesler wrote.

With about a month remaining in the 60-day legislative session, Inslee said he still was hopeful that lawmakers could work through the current upheaval and tensions to get work done, including passing an outline for an education funding plan and a supplemental budget, as well as adding more money to the state’s mental health system.

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