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Eye On Olympia

Governor’s new chief of staff: TVW’s Cindy Zehnder…

Only days after longtime gubernatorial chief of staff Tom Fitzsimmons said he’s stepping down, Gov. Chris Gregoire has picked seasoned Olympia hand Cindy Zehnder to be her new chief of staff. Zehnder starts her new role Oct. 1.

Zehnder is a statehouse veteran. A Teamsters’ driver and dockworker in the 1970s, she spent 13 years working for the union, becoming the elected top officer of a King County Teamsters local from 1994 to 1996. From there, she became an assistant commissioner, then deputy commissioner of the agency.

In 1999, House Democrats picked her to be chief clerk of the House, a job she held until 2003. (In a historical oddity, Zehnder shared the clerk’s duties with a Republican counterpart during the House’s 1999 to 2001 tie, when neither party had a majority in the 98-member House.)

Since 2003, she’s been president and CEO of TVW, the state’s fast-growing version of C-SPAN. She’s also a longtime friend of Gregoire’s.

Although largely a behind-the-scenes job, the job is one of the most powerful in state government. That’s particularly true in an election year, when governors tend to spend much of their time on the road and at campaign events. Fitzsimmons also played a key role negotiating with interest groups, particularly the state’s Indian tribes.

On Zehnder’s watch, TVW continued its steady expansion from its roots as a public-affairs pilot project into a high-tech operation in large new studios. The network, which has meticulously archived years of legislative, gubernatorial and Supreme Court audio into an online library, is now retooling its website into a slick, newsy format.

Zehnder has a bachelors (in anthropology) from the University of Washington, as well as a UW master’s degree in educational psychology. She was also a UW regent from 1995 to 2003. Cougars take heart: she’s also on the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus advisory committee.

Zehnder will get the same salary as Fitzsimmons — $157,272 a year — according to the governor’s office.

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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