Employees say state insurance chief used racial slurs, abused staff |

OLYMPIA — When a runner-up for a top job in the Washington Insurance Commissioner’s office sat down with Mike Kreidler for an interview last fall, the woman was thrilled to work for a small agency with a defense record marginalized communities.

But Kreidler, the current oldest elected official from Washington state, immediately turned the conversation to her race and ethnicity, according to the runner-up for the position, who is Japanese-American and born in Hawaii.

His first question was whether his great-grandparents had come to Hawaii to work on sugar cane plantations or pineapple plantations, the job seeker said.

Kreidler went on to say that he does not consider people of Japanese descent to be a minority or disadvantaged based on his experience of going to school with many of them, according to the woman, who spoke to on condition that she not be named for fear of harming her career. in state government.

At the end of the interview, she had already decided to withdraw her application.

“At one point I looked around because I wasn’t sure I was on one of those hidden camera shows,” said the woman, who is currently in a high profile position. in another state agency. “Personally, I was just in shock. It was racist and highly offensive.

This finalist is one of half a dozen former employees or potential employees who have revealed to the Seattle Times and public radio’s Northwest News Network instances of Kreidler being humiliating or rude, overly racially focused and using derogatory terms for transgender people and people of Mexican, Chinese nationality. , of Italian or Spanish descent, as well as asking some employees of color for unusual favors. The cases are from 2017 to 2022.

Three former employees have told how Kreidler, 78, used the racial slur ‘wetback’ during a staff meeting when telling a story from decades ago about a friend’s racist reaction to the bride-to-be from Kreidler, who is Mexican American. In an interview, Kreidler said he did not recall the specific event, but acknowledged that he had told this story over the years, “and if anyone took offense to it, I feel bad about it.”

In another group meeting, Kreidler described a neighborhood in Tacoma as “Dago Hill”, which he said was a common nickname. In other cases, people have heard Kreidler describe an old friend as “Chinese” and transgender people as “men with boobs.”

Their stories reveal a disconnect between Kreidler’s public image as a progressive Democrat and his management style leading the 260-person agency.

A former political analyst from India said Kreidler asked him to help organize the commissioner’s trip to that country. A former Korean American executive assistant said Kreidler repeatedly asked her to help the commissioner communicate with his Korean neighbors. Another former executive assistant claims Kreidler sent her travel documents back for booking an economy class plane ticket – rather than a more expensive business class seat – to attend a change conference climate in Switzerland.

These stories of people — some of whom did not want to be named out of concern for career ramifications — build on a report from Northwest News Network last month that details workers saying Kreidler mistreated staff. Some point to the departure of five of Kreidler’s seven senior deputies since March 2020, and an employee satisfaction survey showing high levels of dissatisfaction across the agency, as signs of dysfunction.

Kreidler said he was ahead of his time in pushing to end discrimination and had worked over the years to be “politically correct”.

The insurance commissioner also acknowledged that he is often curious about people’s personal stories, such as his conversation with the finalist.

He conceded “from time to time” using outdated or derogatory terminology.

When asked if he had any medical or cognitive issues that might prompt him to make such remarks, the office said in a statement that Kreidler “does not discuss his health issues or status with the media”.

Kreidler said he felt bad if he offended people. “I am very proud of what we have been able to achieve here, to have been able to help solve the problems of discrimination and minimize it in society,” he said.

“There’s more to do to make sure people don’t get hurt, and the last thing I want is to be in a position where everything I say or do overshadows that.”

A former state legislator and congressman, Kreidler was elected insurance commissioner in 2000. He is the state’s primary regulator of the insurance industry in Washington, which includes rate approval and consumer and policyholder advocacy, with an annual salary of $140,110.

As commissioner, Kreidler advocated for the federal Affordable Care Act and reproductive health care, and founded a national climate change task force among insurance officials. In Washington, he lobbied to ensure insurance companies covered medically necessary gender-affirming treatments and worked to protect consumers from surprise health care bills.

And over the past two years, Kreidler has taken on the insurance industry in a bid to ban the use of credit scores to help determine insurance rates, calling it a discriminatory practice that hurts people from marginalized communities.

Edward K. Thompson