State Workers

Williams to be part of health care overhaul

Democratic state Rep. Brendan Williams has taken a top policy position with state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler that will immerse him in federal health reform.

Williams, 42, is wrapping up his third term serving the 22nd Legislative District, a tenure in which he has advocated for consumer protection and passed bills to aid vulnerable people such as victims of domestic or sexual violence. A prolific bill-passer, he also secured legislation that protected women’s health clinics and churches from insurance rate changes in the event they were struck by arsonists.

“I think this is a good fit,’’ Williams said Thursday about the job he plans to start Nov. 1. The division he joins is in charge of the state’s response to health care-reform regulation for the Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Williams also will be in charge of legislative policy and oversee the agency’s legislative liaison, or lobbyist.

Kreidler announced the hiring to his staffers late last week but was not immediately available to comment Thursday. He was traveling in Montana to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners meeting, spokeswoman Sandi Peck said.

Williams replaces Mary Clogston, the deputy commissioner for policy and legislative affairs, who is returning to school but plans to work half time for the agency on a health- reform grant project, Peck said. Williams is to be paid $105,768, the top of the job’s pay range – less than what he earned years ago as the executive director of the state’s nursing home association but more than twice his earnings as a legislator.

Williams had not decided whether he should resign before starting the OIC job.

“I need to figure that out – inasmuch as we’re not scheduled to meet again (as lawmakers), I would just as soon serve out my term. It doesn’t really accomplish anything as a cost savings for the state because what they would do is just swear in my successor,” he said.

Whatever he does, Williams is not done as an outspoken legislator. He put out a statement Thursday saying legislators should return to special session in Olympia to deal with a $520 million budget deficit that opened with Thursday’s revenue forecast.

Williams wants to consider closing tax loopholes to raise money and opposes letting Gov. Chris Gregoire go ahead with across-the-board cuts of 6.3 percent that could strike vulnerable people.

House Speaker Frank Chopp and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown ruled out a special session as unworkable for making the kind of longer-term reductions in the operations of government they think are needed. They favored Gregoire’s decision to order across-the-board cuts as the quickest response to the crisis.

Looking ahead, Williams said the insurance agency will be busy and that Kreidler is the “right guy” in charge during the era of federal health care reform. He said Kreidler is a former optometrist, served as regional administrator for the federal Department of Health and Human Services and was a state lawmaker and member of Congress, and both he and Kreidler served in the 22nd district.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Mike. … He’s committed to consumer protection, which is a legislative priority of mine throughout my terms.

Williams endorsed Democrat Chris Reykdal to become his successor. GOP candidate Jason Hearn of Lacey is the other candidate on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688