Neil Alldredge has been searching for the unifying “theme” in the results of Nov. 6 state elections around the country but he says it has not been easy to identify one.
As senior vice president for state and policy affairs for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), Alldredge follows state politics around the country closely. The best he can come up with for a characterization of what happened Tuesday is that it is “almost a return to normal,” with some of the surprising gains Republicans made in state legislatures in 2010 being rolled back, sort of a “reset” to a pre-2008 environment.
Democrats rode President Obama’s coattails to some gains in state legislatures and governors’ offices across the country in the election but not enough to erase the Republican advantage in states.
Also, five incumbent insurance commissioners — in Montana, North Dakota, North Carolina, Washington and Delaware — were re-elected.
Four of five anti-Obamacare resolutions on state ballots were approved and California’s measure on auto insurance discounts went down to defeat.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there were more than 6,000 legislative seats at stake in the Nov. 6 election and Democrats won some seats in states but not enough to match or exceed the GOP’s overall advantage.
“Democrats will almost certainly net more seats than the GOP, continuing a strong ‘coattails’ trend,” the bipartisan NCSL said. “Including this year, the party winning the White House has gained seats in legislatures in 21 of the past 29 presidential-cycle elections.”
Prior to the election, Republicans had control of legislatures in 26 states and Democrats in 15. Now, Republicans still control both houses in 26 states but Democrats now run both chambers in 19. Four states have split legislatures; Nebraska has a nonpartisan, unicameral chamber.
Only Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Virginia have divided legislatures. However, in Virginia, the lieutenant governor, a Republican, is eligible to cast the tie-breaking vote, so that state could be considered in the GOP column, NCSL said.
Democrats gained majorities in the Colorado House, Maine House and Senate, Minnesota House and Senate, New York Senate, and Oregon House. Perhaps the biggest surprise was in New Hampshire, where the Democrats appear to have wrested control of the sizable 400-member House; the state Senate remains in Republican control.
Democrats held majorities in the Iowa Senate, Kentucky House, Nevada Senate, New Mexico House and Senate, Oregon Senate, Colorado Senate, and the Washington House and Senate.
Republicans made their gains in the Arkansas House, and in the senates of the Alaska and Wisconsin, giving them total control in these three states, according to NCSL.
With the Republican takeover in Arkansas, the south is now solidly in the Republican column at the state house level, according to NCSL.
(Among the Republicans in state legislatures will be at least three insurance agents. According to the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA), three of its leaders are celebrating election victories. Fred Thomas, a past national president of the association, along with Mary Czaja and Don Flanders, currently national directors, won legislative races. Thomas won election to the Montana State Senate. Czaja won her race in northern Wisconsin and Flanders won re-election to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)
The political parties put their best partisan spin on the results.
“The voters have spoken, and they want their elected leaders to focus less on ideology and more on providing practical solutions to improving their communities. Over the upcoming weeks and months the real work of governing begins, and these Democratic members of state legislatures will wake up every day committed to fighting for working families, advancing equal rights for all citizens, and making sure all taxpayers are treated fairly,” said Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Republican State Leadership Committee President Chris Jankowski said the state results were a positive development for the GOP compared to Mitt Romney’s loss in the presidential race.
“Clearly tonight was not what Republicans were hoping for, but we remain encouraged by the successes seen at the state level across the country,” Jankowski said.
He said Republicans defended the majority of chambers they won in 2010, retook the Wisconsin Senate and gained control of the Arkansas House and Senate. In addition, Republicans made gains in both the Kentucky and West Virginia House.
“One thing remains clear – Republicans are the dominant party in the states holding a majority of state legislatures, governorships, lieutenant governorships, secretaries of state and half of the nation’s attorneys general,” Jankowski said.
Alldredge said the industry would take some time to re-evaluate the state-level political landscape to see where there are new opportunities and new obstacles.
But, he said, partisan affiliations are not always indicative of how friendly a state legislature might be to industry proposals. State lawmakers do not always follow predictable partisan paths.
“Party labels matter but it’s a little less partisan” at the state level than in Washington, he says.
Also, when it comes to insurance issues, it matters who the governor is.
For one, many governors appoint the state insurance commissioner. Also, a governor can prioritize an insurance issue, if he or she chooses.
“Most of the time on insurance issues governors don’t get involved but when they do, it matters,” Alldredge said, citing tort reform efforts in Tennessee and property insurance in Florida as examples.
Republicans also still have an advantage in governorships even though Democrats this week won six of the 11 gubernatorial offices up for grabs. Democratic governors were elected or re-elected in Delaware, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont and West Virginia, reported the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Republicans won the corner offices in Indiana, North Carolina, North Dakota and Utah. The governor’s race in the state of Washington remains too close to call with the Democrat leading. The current scorecard has Republicans occupying 31 governor seats.
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) congratulated the winners across the country and stressed bipartisanship.
“We will work in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation with the legislators and the commissioners elected Tuesday to advance good laws and responsible regulation,” said Jeffrey brewer, assistant vice president for state public affairs. “PCI has always reached out to elected officials in both major parties, and we will continue to do so going forward.”
[A number of states also held elections of their state’s supreme court justices.]
Here is a look at some of the key state election results affecting the insurance industry:
Five states had ballot questions asking voters for their opinion on the Affordable Care Act or similar provisions. Voters in Alabama, Missouri, Montana, and Wyoming supported measures critical of the federal healthcare law while Floridians rejected a proposal critical of the law. Florida’s proposed state constitutional amendment, which required 60 percent approval, was favored by 48 percent and opposed by 52 percent.
Opponents of the ballot measures said they were a waste of time because the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act and the votes have no legal impact.
The second automobile insurance persistency initiative put before Californians in the last two years was defeated.
California’s Proposition 33, the 2012 Automobile Insurance Discount Act, was defeated with 54.6 percent voting against it, while the initiative got 45.4 “yes” votes.
Proposition 17, a similar portable persistency discount initiative in 2010, lost by 2 percent.
Both propositions were backed largely by Mercury Insurance Chairman George Joseph, who said portable persistency would be good for consumers and create healthy competition among auto insurers. Joseph personally sunk more than $16 million into Prop. 33, and Prop. 17.
Both propositions were also opposed by Santa Monica, Calif.-based Consumer Watchdog, which waged a dogged war with Prop. 33 backers.
Consumer Watchdog’s argument on Prop. 33 was it would unfairly punish drivers without prior insurance and would undermine existing consumer protections in California law, specifically Proposition 103, which Consumer Watchdog founder Harvey Rosenfield authored.
The Prop. 33 campaign’s argument was the initiative would promote competition among insurers, enable consumers to use their loyalty discount to shop for the best prices and it will protect members of the military serving overseas and those who lost their jobs due to the economy from losing their discount.
Democrat Karen Weldin Stewart was re-elected to a second term as Delaware’s insurance commissioner, defeating Republican challenger Benjamin Mobley.
With votes counted from all 431 districts, Stewart won 61.1 percent of the total votes cast, while Republican candidate Mobley won 36.8 percent of the total votes.
Stewart was first elected as Delaware’s insurance commissioner in 2008. In her remarks to her supporters after winning the election Tuesday night, she said she would continue to serve as an advocate for Delaware consumers. She said homeowners’ insurance rates are lower and auto insurance premiums are also down in Delaware since she’s taken office.
Stewart joined the Delaware insurance department as deputy receiver in 1989. She later founded the Weldin Group Inc., an insurance and reinsurance consulting firm, and also worked as an executive for Reinsurance Solutions International, a subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.
Monica Lindeen, Montana’s insurance commissioner, retained her office with 53.55 percent of the vote, beating opponent Derek Skees who had 46.29 percent of the vote.
Lindeen retains her title of Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Montana State Auditor, an executive position in the Montana state government. Lindeen, a Democrat, assumed office in 2009 after four terms in Montana’s legislature. Lindeen said her top priorities would be to make health insurance more transparent and affordable, strengthen consumer protections, and preserve Montana’s right to regulate insurance and securities. She has asked the legislature to create a state-based health insurance exchange and to give the state the power to review health-insurance rate increases.
Skees, a Republican member of the Montana House of Representatives since 2011, said he was tired of large insurance companies and the federal government dictating insurance regulatory policy in the state. He said government involvement in insurance should be restricted to protecting consumers from fraud.
North Carolina’s incumbent insurance commissioner, Democrat Wayne Goodwin, beat back a challenge by Republican Mike Causey of Greensboro to keep his job.
Goodwin won 51.8 percent of the 4.3 million votes cast in the contest; Causey garnered 48.1 percent.
Causey, a former insurance agent, touted his insurance background as a reason for voters to select him. But Goodwin argued that the state is better off with a commissioner who is not tied to anyone in the industry regulated by the Department of Insurance.
This is Causey’s fourth try for the post. He also lost in 1992, 1996 and 2000 to the long-time Democratic incumbent, Jim Long.
Goodwin was elected to the job in 2008 when Long retired.
Republican and incumbent North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm handily won reelection against Democrat challenger Tom Potter.
Hamm received just over 63 percent of the vote to Potter’s 36.5 percent.
Hamm ran on a three-C platform: common sense insurance regulation; consumer protection; and competitive insurance market.
Top campaign issues for Potter included policyholder rights, management of North Dakota’s $5 billion investment fund, the impact of North Dakota’s oil boom on insurance matters in the state and health insurance.
Hamm, an attorney, was appointed to the insurance commissioner post by Gov. John Hoeven in October 2007 and elected to a four-year term in November 2008.
Measure 77 in Oregon to amend the state’s constitution allowing the governor to declare “catastrophic disaster” won with more than 58 percent voting “yes” to nearly 42 percent voting “no.”
The measure authorizes suspending specified constitutional spending restrictions, and would also allow the legislature to suspend specified constitutional spending restrictions to aid in response and recovery.
Currently the governor has statutory authority to declare state of emergency, with constitutional spending restrictions and constitutional restrictions on legislative authority without exception for emergency. Passing the measure means the governor can redirect previously allocated general fund and lottery monies to a disaster response.
Incumbent Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler won 57.7 percent of the vote in his re-election bid over insurance broker John Adams, his Republican challenger, who garnered 42.3 percent of the votes.
Democrat Kreidler, a former state legislator and former member of Congress, now enters his fourth term in office. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that puts him in a class by himself as the longest serving insurance commissioner in recent memory.
Washington voters also tackled a non-binding ballot initiative asking whether they want to continue the funding of the state’s Pollution Liability Agency beyond 2020 when it is scheduled to expire. The agency is funded by a fee on sellers of certain petroleum products.
The state legislature had approved extending a tax on possession of petroleum products and reduced the tax rate, costing $24 million in its first 10 years, for government spending. Voters favored repealing the tax increase 56.06 percent to 43.94 percent.