Oklahoma Insurance, Commerce Commissioners to Be Decided in Primary

By | June 23, 2014

Voters in the Republican primary in Oklahoma will decide who will be the state’s next regulators of both the insurance industry and a wide range of other businesses overseen by the three-member Oklahoma Corporation Commission, including the important oil and gas sector.

No Democrats or independents are running either for the corporation commission or as insurance commissioner.

Republican incumbent Insurance Commissioner John Doak of Tulsa, who rode a tea party wave to oust a Democratic incumbent in 2010, faces a primary challenge from Bill Viner, a longtime insurance examiner with more than 30 years in the industry.

Viner, of Moore, said he’s campaigning on a promise to reduce insurance rates, and he criticized Doak for accepting campaign funds from companies regulated by the department.

“I don’t see how you can take money from the companies you regulate, and do it fairly,” said Viner, 61.

Oklahoma has no prohibition on contributions from donors from regulated entities, and Doak said all of his contributions are legitimate.

“It’s part of our election process for folks to contribute and support folks they believe in,” said Doak, 51.

Doak reported total contributions of about $500,000. Among his last-minute donations were $5,000 from the president of Falcon Insurance and $4,750 from a political action committee with ties to the insurance industry. Viner said he intended to use about $20,000 of his own money to buy radio ads as part of a final campaign blitz before the June 24 vote.

Doak touted his visits to all of the state’s 77 counties during his first four-year term and his efforts to ensure that victims of severe weather like last year’s Moore tornado were fairly compensated from insurers for losses.

In the commerce commissioner’s race, term-limited state Sen. Cliff Branan of Oklahoma City and former Oklahoma House Speaker Todd Hiett of Kellyville square off in a winner-take-all Republican primary in the race for a six-year term on the commission, which oversees oil and gas production, public utilities, pipelines, trucking and railroads, among others. Both are seeking to replace Republican Commissioner Patrice Douglas, who is running for Congress.

Hiett ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2006 and spent the last eight years as an executive with Sand Springs-based Webco Industries, a tubing manufacturer.

Branan, a longtime commercial real estate broker in Oklahoma City, served 12 years in the Senate, including stints as chairman of both the Senate transportation and energy committees.

Both Branan and Hiett criticized the federal government’s encroachment into regulation of practices such as oil and gas fracking, and the electric generation industry.

Branan reported total contributions of about $670,000 through June 9, including $290,000 in personal loans to his campaign. Hiett reported raising about $342,000 during the same period, including a $50,000 personal loan to his campaign.

Among the contributors to the campaigns of both Hiett and Branan are industries the men would regulate if elected to the commission. For example, Branan received thousands of dollars in last-minute contributions from more than a dozen executives with Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the state’s largest electric utility, including $4,000 from the company’s chairman and chief executive. Among Hiett’s maximum $5,000 contributors are executives in the coal and oil and gas industries.

Several statewide elected officials in Oklahoma drew no opponent this cycle, including Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, and Treasurer Ken Miller. There are both Democratic and Republican primaries in the race for education superintendent.

Races for lieutenant governor and commissioner of labor will be decided in November’s general election.

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