The Washington state Senate fired Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson on Feb. 5 by refusing to confirm her — some three years after she was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The vote broke almost entirely along party lines, with 21 Democrats voting to confirm Peterson and 25 against — all Republicans along with one Democrat who caucuses with the GOP.
The governor's office said Peterson would have to leave office immediately. Deputy Transportation Secretary Roger Millar is in charge of WSDOT, Inslee said.
Senators supporting her removal mentioned the ongoing high costs of road projects, as well as problems with Interstate 405 toll lanes and the Highway 99 tunnel project.
Supporters praised improvements in ferry service and her quick, personal response to the Oso mudslide and Skagit River bridge collapse.
The vote raised accusations that majority Republicans in the Senate were trying to weaken Inslee during an election year.
In a statement after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoessler (R-Ritzville) said Peterson's three years as transportation secretary have seen one WSDOT failure after another.
Recent examples include the Seattle Highway 99 tunnel project that is anticipating more than $200 million in claims and cost overruns, and the I-405 high-occupancy toll lanes that have made traffic congestion worse instead of better, Schoessler said.
Inslee's office called the vote "shameful."
"[The Feb. 5] vote by Senate Republicans is a blatant misuse of the confirmation process for political purposes," Inslee spokewoman Jaime Smith said. "Republicans' actions . . .do nothing to engender confidence about their ability to focus on the important priorities facing legislators this session."
State Sen. Don Benton (R-Clark County) called Peterson a "lovely person" but then accused her of launching backdoor talks with Oregon, to bring back the canceled Columbia River Crossing of I-5. He was among local conservatives who opposed light rail on the new bridge — keeping the project out of last year's huge transportation package.
"She's a lovely person, she's helped me on many occasions. That is not what this debate is about. It's s about business," Benton said.
Inslee lashed out at the Republicans on Feb. 8, calling their decision to oust Peterson "an election-year stunt."