Retiring politicians are often the subject of glowing retrospectives on their career, especially in the closing days of the year when investigative reporting is rare. However, this week political junkies were provided yet another reason to celebrate the departure of Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark – because according to a joint project of public radio’s Austin Jenkins and the Tacoma News Tribune, it turns out that Goldmark has been wasting state money on dubious travel.
The TNT notes that a summertime trip to Vancouver, B.C., costing over $6,000 “was the most expensive of at least 42 trips on chartered flights Goldmark has taken since 2013, at an average cost of about $2,000. Goldmark’s flying habit is unique among elected state agency chiefs, and also has increased as of late. The Democrat from Okanogan has more than tripled his use of chartered flights to travel out of Olympia during the last two years of his four-year term. Goldmark, who didn’t seek a third term this fall, took 32 trips from the start of 2015 through September 2016.”
It appears that once Goldmark decided not to put himself in front of voters again, that he stepped up his use of taxpayer money to charter unnecessary trips. Fortunately for him, he often took along his communications director, Sandra Kaiser, who must have used the time on the state plane to provide Goldmark persuasive talking points should his wasteful habits come to light.
Here’s Goldmark’s response, according to Jenkins, regarding his high-flying habits: “Goldmark defended taking the charter flight to Vancouver because of his tight schedule and unreliable traffic getting to Seattle-Tacoma International airport from Olympia. ‘I thought it was appropriate to use those resources, those state resources to lessen the amount of time that I would be engaged in transit,’ Goldmark said.”
We certainly would not want a state bureaucrat like Goldmark to be stuck in traffic like his constituents. He and Ms. Kaiser had important places to be, and people to see. Perhaps that’s why, again from Jenkins, “Goldmark makes no apologies for using state planes to fly him out of Olympia to save time — even on short hops around Puget Sound. ‘I don’t think that the people of the state of Washington want me stranded on I-5 as opposed to pursuing their good work,’ he said.”
What exactly the “good work” was that he was pursuing in Vancouver, B.C., he did not identify. But a legislator who has had oversight of Goldmark’s work provided a better perspective when told about the excessive spending. “ ‘That’s a lot of money,’ said state Rep. Joel Kretz, a Republican from Wauconda, when asked about Goldmark’s $6,000 trip to B.C. Kretz serves on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and is a rancher who has worked extensively on wildfire issues with the DNR, which leads the state’s firefighting efforts. ‘I’m sitting here thinking of how many fire hoses could we buy for that, you know?’ he said.”
Maybe the state will be able to afford some of those fire hoses in 2017, with Goldmark departing next month.