Election Will Mean New Faces in State Insurance Commissioner Jobs

November 1, 2010

Tuesday’s elections could have ramifications for a number of state insurance commissioner posts across the country.

Nationwide, 11 commissioners are directly elected but there are only four such elections tomorrow; the rest of commissioners are appointed, most by governors or entities controlled by the governor.

In one of the commissioner elections, the question of who will be commissioner has already been settled. In Kansas, Sandy Praeger prevailed over challenger David Powell in the Aug. 3 Republican primary to secure the nomination as Kansas insurance commissioner. Praeger faces no opposition in tomorrow’s election, so the primary win means Praeger will retain the commissioner’s post. Praeger was first elected to post in 2002.

In three other states — California, Georgia and Oklahoma– there are direct elections of insurance commissioners where tomorrow’s votes will matter.

In California, there is an election to replace Steve Poizner, who tried to become governor but lost in the Republican primary to eBay’s Meg Whitman. Republican Assemblyman Mike Villines is facing off against Democratic Assemblyman Dave Jones to replace Poizner.

Oklahoma Insurance Kim Holland faces challenger John Doak, an insurance agent from Tulsa, in Tuesday’s election. Doak has emphasized his 20 years as an insurance agent and executive. Holland, a Democrat, was appointed to the post by Gov. Brad Henry in 2005 and ran and won a full term in 2006. She also was an insurance agent before taking over as commissioner.

John Oxendine, first elected Georgia insurance commissioner in 1994, will not be commissioner next year. The veteran regulator tried to move up the political ladder by running for the GOP nomination for governor but fell off on the first rung in the primary. His successor as regulator will be either Republican Ralph Hudgens, Democrat Mary Squires or Libertarian Shane Bruce.

Commissioner Kevin McCarty could be in trouble in Florida. His appointment depends upon support from the next governor and one other member of the Florida Cabinet. His biggest backer, Gov. Charlie Crist, is running for U.S. Senate and Crist’s successor as governor will be either current CFO Alex Sink, a Democrat, or Republican Rick Scott, a healthcare executive. Scott is likely to want his own appointee in the commissioner post, and Sink is close with the state’s independent insurance agents lobby, whose leaders have had their differences with him.

In South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee, there will be new governors due to term limits on the existing occupants of the office. It is likely the new governors will appoint new insurance commissioners.

Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Rhode Island are also among the states where incumbents are not running so there will definitely be new governors, who in turn may choose to name new commissioners.

There are a number of states where there could be a new commissioner if the incumbent governor loses.

In Texas, Republican incumbent Rick Perry’s main challenger for the governor’s office is Democrat Bill White, former mayor of Houston. The current insurance commissioner is Perry appointee Mike Geeslin.

In Arkansas, Democratic incumbent Gov. Mike Beebe faces GOP’s Jim Keet. The current insurance commissioner is Jay Bradford.

Incumbent Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, faces Republican John Kasich. Mary Jo Hudson is currently director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.

In Iowa, Democrat Gov. Chet Culver, the incumbent, is being challenged by Republican Terry Branstad. Susan E. Voss is currently commissioner of insurance in Iowa.

Republican Bill Brady is challenging incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, in the Illinois governor’s race. Michael T. McRaith is the current director of the Illinois Department of Insurance.

Nebraska Gov. David Heineman faces Democratic challenger Mike Meister. Insurance Director Ann M. Frohman previously announced she is leaving the office, so a new commissioner will be appointed regardless who wins the governor’s race.

Similarly Virginia, where the commissioner is appointed by an independent commission, will have a new regulator because incumbent Al Gross is retiring after 14 years at the job — unrelated to the elections.

In Pennsylvania, polls show Republican Tom Corbett leads the race to replace outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell (D). That Republican victory could likely means changes at the department for Acting Commissioner Robert Pratter, who took over from Joel Ario this summer.

In Vermont, Mike Bertrand was appointed Commissioner of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA) in June. Bertrand was an insider in the administration of outgoing governor Jim Douglas, a Republican. The election is between Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie and Senate President Peter Shumlin, a Democrat.

In New York, current state insurnace chief James Wrynn was appointed in August 2009 by outgoing Gov. David Paterson. Another Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, has a double-digit lead in the race to succeed Paterson.

In Maryland, Elizabeth Sammis has been serving as acting commissioner since January. She was appointed by current Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is running for re-election.

In Massachusetts, current Insurance Commissioner Joseph Murphy was appointed in February by Gov. Deval Patrick, who is locked in a fairly close re-election bid with Republican health insurance executive Charles Baker, who would likely choose his own commissioner if he wins.

In Connecticut, Commissioner Thomas M. Sullivan, who was appointed by outgoing Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, has just resigned early, effective Nov. 12. Rell’s successor as governor will get to name a new person to the post. In the meantime, Rell may need to name an acting commissioner.

In several states, the terms of the commissioner are different from those of the governor, thus delaying any change even if a new governor takes over.

For example, Maine Insurance Commissioner Mila Kofman was appointed to a five-year term earlier this year by outgoing Gov. John Baldacci. New Hampshire Commissioner Roger Sevigny was re-appointed to a five-year term in 2008 by John Lynch, who is widely expected to win a fourth term.

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