Pick Your Poison

By | February 7, 2005

It wouldn’t be the year after an election if someone, somewhere didn’t have some trouble with his pick for insurance commissioner. Two new Midwestern governors have hit rough spots: One for how he made his choice, and the other for being publicly rebuffed.

First in Missouri, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt–the offspring of powerful U.S. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt–assigned a private panel to interview and recommend candidates for the position. The panel settled on former Missouri Association of Insurance Agents’ President Dale Finke, and Blunt obliged. The problem, according to critics, was with the panel. Comprised of representatives from the state’s broker, health-care and doctors communities, the panel sought a pro-business choice who would be in line with Blunt’s campaign stance on capping pain-and-suffering jury awards in medical malpractice cases.

At least one former Missouri insurance director–Jay Angoff, who served in the Mel Carnahan administration–called the process “shockingly inappropriate.” Why it would be inappropriate for a governor to seek out a candidate who actually agreed with him on insurance matters seems a bit unclear. Oh, it’s not the issues, the critics say, but the process. No consumer advocates were represented on the panel. Insurance insiders essentially chose the man who will regulate them, the critics argue.

For his part, Finke is widely admired within the state’s insurance community, having served on MAIA’s government relations committee as of last year and been named the group’s Insurance Man of the Year back in the 1970s. And the pick was not a fait accompli. Blunt was perfectly free to reject the panel’s choice after his interview with Finke. He didn’t. It seems that certain interest groups who are afraid of the changes Blunt and Finke will attempt to bring about are using the smokescreen of objecting on procedural grounds to mask their real disagreement on the issues. On the issues, Blunt won in November. On the issues, he may repeat that victory in the General Assembly if Democrats focus on process instead of substance.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s new governor–Republican Mitch Daniels–reportedly went through three or four picks to head up the Hoosier State’s insurance department before publicly announcing a State Farm agency owner, W. Harold Calloway, as his choice. Set to begin the job in March, Calloway pulled out due to “a personal and financial disruption to his business.” Daniels’ old boss, President George W. Bush, never had a cabinet pick so rudely rebuff him. Perhaps Daniels lacks Dubya’s supposedly magic personal touch.

Or perhaps on second thought, Calloway looked at Indiana’s long underfunded and understaffed department and decided it was more of a chore than the chance of a lifetime. If you were the insurance commissioner or director in your state, what would you change? What would you do differently? Please e-mail or give me a call and share your thoughts.

Thanks again for reading.

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Insurance Journal West February 7, 2005
February 7, 2005
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