Inslee, legislative leaders want Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to resign after he fired whistleblower [The Seattle Times]
Seattle Times (WA)
Jun. 17—Gov. Jay Inslee and leaders of both parties in the Washington Legislature are calling on longtime Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to resign, after he fired a top aide who had complained that Kreidler bullied him, used crass language and was "antagonizing staff."
Inslee, in a prepared statement Friday, said that recent events demonstrate Kreidler is "unable to fulfill his leadership responsibility."
"Commissioner Kreidler assured his employees and the public he would work to improve his relationship with staff, but instead he terminated an employee who spoke out about these issues," Inslee said. "All staff deserve respect regardless of their at-will status. Therefore it's my belief we need different leadership in this position and I believe he should resign."
The majority and minority leaders in both the House and the Senate have all called for Kreidler to step down. So did the chair of the Washington State Democratic Party.
Kreidler, a Democrat who was elected to his position, said Friday he has no plans to resign. He also, without mentioning specifics, disputed the details of the aide's departure.
"I cannot comment on the details of an individual personnel matter but the conclusion that an important and valued employee's departure was because he filed a complaint against me is not true and does not reflect the full context of the story," Kreidler said.
State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said Thursday he'd had "serious concerns" about Kreidler, 78, after reports from The Seattle Times and Northwest News Network, about Kreidler's behavior.
"Now that he's decided to fire the employee who had the courage to come forward in the first place, it's become clear that the Insurance Commissioner did not learn from these past incidents and I believe it is time for him to step down," Billig said in a prepared statement.
Republican Minority Leader John Braun, of Centralia, also called for Kreidler's resignation.
"The claims of inappropriate workplace conduct were disturbing on their own and called into question Commissioner Kreidler's ability to effectively lead his office," Braun said. "But firing a whistleblower is completely unacceptable, and quite frankly, the final straw."
A spokesperson for House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said Jinkins spoke with Kreidler last month "and conveyed her opinion that she was not confident it would be possible for him to regain the trust of the public, his staff or legislators."
"Her opinion has not changed in light of the recent news and she believes he is no longer able to lead his office," said the spokesperson, Travis Shofner.
Kreidler, a Democrat, has won six terms as Washington's insurance commissioner, serving since 2001. He previously served one term in Congress.
He said he intends to continue in his post.
"Gov. Inslee and I have worked and served together for many years and I generally respect both his perspective and his efforts to further the causes we both care about. However, I disagree with his conclusion regarding my ability to continue my duties as an independently elected official," Kreidler said.
"I take full responsibility for my past behavior and recognize the impact it has had on those around me and the people I serve. I have pledged to do better and stand by that commitment."
In recent months, a half-dozen potential and former employees disclosed instances when Kreidler was demeaning or rude, overly focused on race and used derogatory terms for transgender people and people of Mexican, Chinese, Italian or Spanish descent, as well as asking some employees of color for unusual favors. The instances are from 2017 to 2022.
While none of the former employees filed a formal complaint against Kreidler, Jon Noski, the agency's legislative affairs director, did in February. He alleged that Kreidler bullied him on Feb. 1, when the commissioner berated Noski after his testimony in a legislative committee on a bill involving credit scoring.
Kreidler fired Noski earlier this week.
Marquis told Northwest News Network that Noski was an at-will, exempt employee subject to termination at any time.
"The decision to end [Noski's] appointment was made following ongoing discussions with Jon about his role in the office as the agency moves forward. Jon has been a valued member of our legislative and policy team and everyone wishes him well in his future endeavors," Marquis wrote.
Republican House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, of Yelm, said Friday that Kreidler should resign.
"Kreidler has served in this position since 2001 and his reaction to honest criticism has been to retaliate," Wilcox tweeted. "Although he has had an impressive career in service, including many years of military service, it will be overshadowed by his bad behavior towards quality staff members and clinging to office far beyond a reasonable term."
If Kreidler does not resign, the Legislature could move to impeach him. Impeachment requires a majority vote in the House. A conviction, and removal from office, would then require a two-thirds majority in the Senate.
State Democratic Party Chair Tina Podlodowski, in a joint statement with Vice Chair David Green, said Kreidler has lost the trust of his employees and his party.
"It is now abundantly clear: He has learned nothing," Podlodowski and Green said. "To fire a whistleblower — someone who had the courage to step forward in the first place — is not only unacceptable and unethical, but directly goes against the Democratic values of our party."