When your party has been exiled from the governor’s office for more than three decades, a good campaign theme just might change your luck. Washington Republicans are obviously crafting one they think is a winner in 2016.
Republican candidate for governor Bill Bryant has made clear he is willing to fire government officials to enforce accountability in a way that he thinks Gov. Jay Inslee — the latest in a raft of Democratic governors since 1985 — hasn’t.
Bryant can’t fire anyone as a candidate, but his Republican allies in the Legislature can in certain circumstances. They got their first head to roll Friday.
In a move that looks like a preview of fall campaigns, the Senate voted to reject Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, though key Republican senators praised Inslee’s appointee just a year ago — back when the two parties were negotiating a $16 billion transportation-funding package.
The refusal to confirm Peterson in effect fired her — without apparent warning to the governor or to Peterson.
Peterson may have been a bureaucrat in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Republicans suggested she was not competent — blaming her for the Seattle tunnel-boring machine staying stuck and finding her responsible for a troubled rollout of toll lanes on Interstate 405, which runs through GOP-friendly communities east of Lake Washington. Others pointed to the ferry system.
There are a dozen or so other Inslee appointees who similarly need confirmation, and, in a Trump-like warning, one Senate Republican said on Twitter that other heads will roll if agency leaders don’t shape up.
By Saturday, Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke offered his own head in the wake of the early-release-of-prisoners scandal he inherited. Pacholke said he hoped his resignation would stop the GOP’s blood thirst.
The tough talk by Republicans started weeks ago. When the scandalous news broke that the Department of Corrections had released up to 3,200 inmates early since 2002, because of a computer glitch that went unnoticed for years, Bryant was quick to slam Inslee. He released a statement saying:
“When asked if someone might lose their job over this, Gov. Inslee demurred, saying ‘It’s possible.’ That is not an acceptable response. Bureaucrats and Inslee’s political appointees need to be held accountable for knowing about a problem for years and not fixing it.”
More recently, the Republican-led Senate hired an outside investigator to look into the truly bad problem at the DOC, which led to two offenders being charged in two deaths that occurred after their release but before they should have been freed. Some officials at DOC knew about the early-release glitch by 2012, yet it went unfixed until Inslee and Pacholke were notified weeks ago.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat in the Republican’s Majority Coalition Caucus, made clear which direction his adopted caucus is going in an election year.
“Every session has a nameplate issue, and this year it is leadership and accountability. We have seen a spate of failures in the executive branch — prisoners being released early, inadequate care in our mental hospitals and traffic snarls on I-405,” Sheldon said in a statement.
“This vote reflects our lack of confidence in Lynn Peterson to manage the Department of Transportation, but it also demonstrates our belief that someone ought to be held responsible,” Sheldon stated. “Every board of directors has a responsibility to its shareholders. Our shareholders are the people of Washington state, and they must be listened to and respected.”
Some Democrats called the firing an abuse of power. Inslee said it was underhanded and dishonest. It was really the political version of a hostile take-over in the boardroom.
If this legislative session wasn’t already the warmup to a season of bare-knuckle campaigns in 2016, it is now.
Stay tuned to see who is next.