(The Center Square) – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has called on Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to resign.
“Following Commissioner Kreidler’s admission that he treated staff poorly and used inappropriate language in the office, he committed to learning and doing better,” Inslee said in a statement to The Center Square Friday. “The events of the last several months demonstrate he 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. All staff deserves 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.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued the following statement in response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s call for his resignation:
“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.
“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.
“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. At the same time, I intend to continue serving alongside the dedicated people of our agency and to work on the important consumer protection issues ahead.”
Inslee joins a rising chorus of voices from both parties expressing concern about Kreidler’s actions and, in many cases, calling for Kreidler’s resignation.
The list so far includes Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Olympia, and Senate Majority Chief Andy Billig, D-Spokane, as well as state House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and more.
The staffer who was let go was legislative liaison Jon Noski. He was the cause of one of the two controversies that Kreidler, 78, had weathered so far this year, by filing a whistleblower complaint with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner on Feb. 4 alleging “emotional outbursts towards me and other staff for trivial reasons that are often misunderstandings of reality.”
This volatile tendency was corroborated in press accounts by multiple current and former OIC employees, speaking mostly off the record, saying that Kreidler was prone to belittling outbursts.
Noski’s complaint, obtained through a public information request by the NW News Network, predicted that coming forward “could easily jeopardize my career in public service.” He professed to be doing it for a greater purpose because “knowing what I know about the commissioner’s abusive behaviors, doing nothing would not be right and would make me culpable if harm were to come to anyone because of his inappropriate behavior.”
The commissioner was hit by a second wave of scandal in April when current and former associates alleged that he had made some racially insensitive and anti-trans remarks.
Through both of the previous controversies, the governor maintained that Kreidler had work to do to regain the trust of his staff and the public, but that he should be allowed to do it. Firing the whistleblower who kicked everything off appears to have been the final straw.
The OIC maintains that it was Kreidler’s right to terminate Noski.
“The agency made the decision to exercise its discretion to end Jon’s exempt appointment as the OIC’s legislative liaison,” a spokeswoman for the department said in a statement to The Center Square Friday. “This position is an at-will, exempt appointment that the agency can end at any time. The decision to end his 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.”
As for the calls to resign: “The commissioner does not have any plans to step down.”
Inslee weighing in in favor of Kreidler’s departure is stoking speculation, however.
In a phone conversation, Sen. Braun told The Center Square that Kreidler is a man who has “thumbed his nose at everyone in Olympia” and that he was “absolutely sure he wouldn’t resign” when he had called for it on Thursday, in part because Braun had called for it.
But now, he said, “I think there’s a chance” the insurance commissioner will pack it in early.
“As pressure builds, I think that ultimately he may,” Braun said.