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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington will soon elect a new insurance commissioner for the first time in decades. Here’s a look at who’s running and why you should care:

For the first time in 24 years, Washington State’s insurance commissioner will not seek re-election, leaving the statewide race to take his place incumbent-free.

Eight candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for a shot to fill the seat of outgoing Commissioner Mike Kreidler, a longtime office-holder who fell under public scrutiny during his final term in office for allegedly firing a whistleblower he bullied and reportedly using racist language when speaking to a job applicant.

These events led Gov. Jay Inslee and elected state lawmakers across the aisle to call for Kreidler to step down from his post in 2022. He did not.

But when news broke last year that Inslee would not seek re-election, Kreidler immediately followed suit and announced he would not run for another term as insurance commissioner.

Why should you care about Washington’s insurance commissioner?

Despite being frequently overshadowed by more flashy elected leaders such as the state governor or attorney general, the job of running the state’s insurance commission is no small task.

The person who fills that role plays a part in deciding how much Washingtonians pay for things like health, car and home insurance.

The insurance commissioner has the power to work as a representative for state residents as insurance rates continue to skyrocket in the wake of climate change, corporate mergers and inflation. The Spokesman-Review interviewed six of the eight candidates vying to be Washington’s next insurance commissioner. Here’s some information about each of them:

Who’s on this year’s primary ballot?

Bill Boyd

Boyd is a longtime insurance broker and political newcomer who lives in Spokane. Running as a Democrat, Boyd said he is the only person in the race with 30 years of insurance industry experience.

“I own my own business,” he said. “I own my own brokerage. I’ve built this business from the ground up. I work well with people. I’ve been helping my clients fight against the big insurance companies. Now it’s time for me to take it to the next level.”

Boyd owns Spokane-based insurance agency Boyd Insurance Brokerage, Inc.

If elected as insurance commissioner, he said he’d work to lower home and auto insurance prices in Washington.

“There are companies that are raising rates tremendously – they’re not writing new business,” he said. “It’s a very difficult place to have insurance right now. Short term, I will invite additional insurance companies into the state and get their pricing in here to get more competitive to help reduce prices immediately.”

He added he would also use his power in the office to try to privatize the state’s workers’ compensation system.

“If we can privatize it, the cost will go down by half, probably, over the state-run, antiquated system, and then the employees don’t have to pay into it,” he said.

Boyd said property crime in Washington is driving up home insurance rates to go up in urban areas. To combat this, he said he’d encourage people to get alarm systems and incentivize that through offering savings.

When it comes to WA Cares – a program that provides Washington residents with long-term care coverage through a mandatory tax that went into effect last summer, Boyd said he doesn’t like the way the state implemented the program.

He said he’d work to repeal or drastically change the program if he gets elected.

Phil Fortunato

Sen. Fortunato, R-Auburn, has served in the Washington State Senate since 2017. If elected as insurance commissioner, Fortunato said he’d advocate for Second Amendment protection groups and property rights groups.

A ranking member of the state’s Senate Housing Committee, Fortunato thinks the state should provide supplemental insurance for homeowners who lose their properties in wildfires. If the state footed 20% of that bill, he said, it might incentivize home insurance companies that have been pulling out of fire-prone regions of the state to stay.

Fortunato believes in a privatized health insurance system and would push against any efforts to fund public health programs.

“The only thing that keeps Medicare afloat is everybody else paying full price,” he said. “You wanna see Medicare for all? Just look at the VA system. My first three sons are all veterans, and it’s a joke trying to get medical care through the VA system. Three months for a dental appointment.”

Fortunato said he is worried one of his Democratic opponents, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, would use the office to push to require mandatory liability insurance for gun owners – a law she previously tried to get passed in the state Legislature.

The Auburn lawmaker also said he disapproves of the state’s newly adopted WA Cares Fund .

Jonathan Hendrix

Hendrix, of Seattle, is running for insurance commissioner with no declared party preference. He said he landed upon this decision to run because he wanted to put his commitment to everyday people above any party ties.

“With more than 35 years executive experience in various capacities, I have an end-to-end understanding of insurance, but through a business lens,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix said his experience as an insurance executive would allow him to work across the aisle to solve problems. Hendrix worked at Premera Blue Cross of Washington doing national account sales and account management.

If elected, Hendrix said he will work to ensure artificial intelligence used by insurance companies does not harm consumers in the state.

Hendrix said he would work with lawmakers to pass laws and regulations in the name of three goals: affordability, access and customer experience.

“If we continue with the status quo path of voting in politicians beholden to stakeholders and special interests, the voice of the people, communities and businesses who buy, maintain and use insurance is diminished,” Hendrix said. “While I won’t be hostile to stakeholders, I will insist that there is respect for people, communities and businesses whose earnings support the multibillion-dollar insurance system in Washington.”

Patty Kuderer

Sen. Kuderer, D-Bellevue, has served as a Washington state senator since 2017. She said she is running for insurance commissioner with health care issues at the top of mind, particularly making medicines such as insulin more affordable for Washingtonians as hospital and pharmacy mergers continue to drive up costs.

Kuderer pointed to a pharmacy benefit manager bill she said she worked on for several years and that was signed into law earlier this year. The bill, which was part of a larger consumer protection package of laws, instituted transparency laws and rules around employee health care companies with the mission of lowering pharmaceutical drug prices .

“The second sponsor on that bill was Sen. Shelly Short because this issue in particular tends to be very bipartisan,” Kuderer said, noting the Republican who represents northeastern Washington. “It put guardrails on pharmacy benefit managers for the first time in several years.”

Kuderer said she hopes Washington will eventually move further in the direction of establishing a universal health care system, “slowly, over time,” noting that medical debt is the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in the country.

Kuderer said she hopes the state will keep its new WA Cares insurance program, noting that it’s different from long-term care because it’s targeted to help groups that need six or less months of assistance.

“One of the misconceptions about WA Cares is that it’s intended for nursing homes,” Kuderer said. “… For example, if you break your leg, you may need a ramp for a couple months. You might be laid up for three, four months. WA Cares pays for that. WA Cares pays for the ramp to be put in. WA Cares pays for your family member to leave work, so you’re not losing money as a household.”

John Pestinger

Pestinger, an Air Force Veteran who lives in Seattle, said he’s running for state insurance commissioner as a Democrat because he “loves insurance.” He said he’s the only candidate in the race with both insurance industry experience and insurance regulation experience.

“I have worked in insurance since 2000,” he said. “I handled over 25,000 claims and helped people through some of the worst days of their lives. In 2019, I switched to insurance regulation as a project manager at the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.”

To bring rates down, Pestinger said the state needs to stabilize the hard insurance market by avoiding making any changes.

“Once the market stabilizes, we can work to improve coverages,” he said. “Those changes need long-term vision and well -thought-out plans, to avoid the unintended consequences the Legislature has caused the last few years, that we are all paying for.”

In the Air Force, Pestinger said he worked as an AF Paralegal handling damage claims against the government.

Pestinger said he initially supported the state’s long-term care insurance program, but after seeing the way it was rolled out, he now supports the voters’ right to choose.

Tim Verzal

Verzal is a retired auto body mechanic who lives in Eatonville. Running as an independent, the political newcomer said he’s running because he encountered “way too many people” who can’t afford insurance who aren’t buying it.

Verzal said he’s sick of government officials allowing companies to raise insurance rates.

After he retired in October from running Eatonville Collision, he said he decided to run for office on his own dime because he’s fed up.

“I’ve seen the foolishness that the auto insurance people have done,” he said. “If elected, I plan on going to hospitals to find out why they’re charging $1,500 for a boot when you can buy the same boot online for $35. Something’s wrong.”

Verzal pointed to the fact that insurance companies can afford to pay millions of dollars for a Super Bowl ad spot and simultaneously claim they need to raise rates.

Verzal is not a career politician, and he said that’s the reason he’s running. He said he walked to work before he retired with no insurance claims and despite that, his auto insurance rates skyrocketed the past few years.

“These career politicians get voted in, and they do the same thing: nothing,” he said. “There’s a reason that they’re doing this, and it’s just greed for money.”


Two candidates, Democrat Chris Chung and Republican Justin Murta, did not return interview requests.