Reports of staff abuse are last straw, says ranking member of State Government committee
OLYMPIA – Staff complaints of abusive behavior from Washington’s insurance commissioner are the latest in a series of incidents that warrant Mike Kreidler’s resignation, says Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview.
Staff reports allege the hot-tempered Kreidler frequently makes snide remarks and belittles employees in front of their peers in a deliberate effort to humiliate them. In a story published today by Northwest News Network, Kreidler’s communications director complains he is “not fit to lead.” A former senior staffer describes “many incidents of bad behavior.” And another staffer, speaking under condition of anonymity out of fear that Kreidler will retaliate, said the insurance commissioner drives workers to tears and has created a hostile work environment. “I’m talking about meanness,” she said.
According to the story, one staffer has filed a complaint.
Kreidler, 78, has served as Washington’s elected insurance commissioner since 2001, following a 24-year career in the state House and Senate.
Wilson, ranking Republican on the Senate State Government and Elections Committee, said the complaints offer a context for recent incidents of over-the-top behavior the Legislature has been noticing from Kreidler. “The staff reports tell us the problems in Kreidler’s office have escalated within the last few years,” Wilson said. “During the same time period, we have noticed the same disrespect for the Legislature and the people of the state of Washington. This behavior problem appears to have affected his conduct of official duties.”
One of those incidents was Kreidler’s decision this summer to issue a tweet through his staff-managed official Twitter account that likened Texas Republicans to the Taliban. Wilson and numerous other Washington Republicans took offense, observing that the elected lawmakers of the Lone Star State bear little resemblance to the gangs that have overrun the nation of Afghanistan, trafficking in heroin, engaging in extortion and executing women who fail to adhere to Islamic law.
“It’s a free country, and Kreidler can be as snide as he wishes,” Wilson said. “But this sort of hostile and inflammatory comment was awfully strange, coming from an elected official who must deal with the Legislature and members of both political parties.
“Several of us issued statements denouncing Kreidler’s intemperate remarks. A couple of months later, my office and several others were hit with a public records request from Mike Kreidler’s communications director, seeking all emails and other records associated with the statements we made. Nothing came of this fishing expedition because there was nothing to find. Was Kreidler trying to intimidate the Legislature into silence?
“This behavior demonstrated that Mike Kreidler doesn’t know when he has gone too far. And this is exactly the same thing we are now hearing from his staff.”
Wilson also is critical of Kreidler’s decision last year to forbid insurance companies from using credit scores in determining insurance rates. The Legislature had already rejected Kreidler’s proposal by refusing to advance a bill Kreidler had requested. Kreidler then decided no bill was needed and that he had the authority to issue an order himself without legislative approval. His administrative action, presented as a COVID relief measure, increased insurance rates for 60 percent of Washington residents, and was one of the biggest topics of complaints received by legislative offices in the last year.
In December, a judge struck down Kreidler’s first attempt to impose the rule, on the grounds that he had ignored legal requirements for public notice and public comment. Kreidler started over and reimposed the rule March 4. Insurer groups have filed suit to overturn it.
“The courts will decide whether Kreidler has legal authority,” Wilson said. “But Kreidler’s lack of judgement is something all of us need to consider. Here we were, in the middle of a pandemic, with thousands of people unemployed, many businesses on life support, and working families struggling to put food on the table. And Kreidler came along and decided he wanted to give a break on insurance to people with bad credit, by jacking up insurance rates for everyone else.
“What’s worse, he claims this is a COVID relief measure – even though the pandemic is clearly winding down, and most states already rescinded their declarations of emergency. The excuse doesn’t pass the straight-face test. He wanted to do it, so he did it. Kreidler lacks the self-restraint that we expect of elected officials and responsible adults, and the best thing he could do for his office and the people of the state is to tender his resignation before he disgraces the office further.”