Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale said he will seek re-election to the post he has held since 1975.
Dale, 66, had been considering retiring from public office, but felt the needs of Mississippians dealing with rising insurance costs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina were too important to ignore.
“I think the job needs to be held by someone who can see the big picture,” Dale told the Associated Press.
No one has filed to run for the office, according to the state Democratic and Republican parties. Dale said he has run unopposed in about half of his previous campaigns and only once received less than 70 percent of the vote.
He would like to run as a Democrat, as he has previously, but he thinks party politics have no place in the office.
“I’m not one for political parties,” he said. “In an office such as this, it’s so technical in nature that partisan politics should not be a part of this office because you have to be insurance commissioner for everybody.”
Candidates have until March 1 to qualify for state office. Party primaries are Aug. 7 and the general election is Nov. 6.
Dale is the longest-tenured insurance commissioner in the nation and his experience has been important to the state. Never in Mississippi’s history has insurance been a larger issue. Hurricane Katrina left thousands with damaged or destroyed homes, and many are still waiting to rebuild.
State officials are currently in settlement negotiations with State Farm Insurance Co., Mississippi’s largest home insurer, to end more than 600 lawsuits and resolve thousands of other disputed claims. The deal would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
A Biloxi jury recently awarded a couple whose claim was denied by the company $2.5 million in punitive damages in one of those lawsuits.
And the state is also dealing with ballooning rates, which have been blamed for the slow rebuilding pace since the August 2005 storm.
Residential insurance rates in areas covered by the Mississippi Windstorm Underwriting Association are currently about 90 percent higher than before the storm hit. It’s about 268 percent higher for commercial properties, a rate that has left many small businesses unable to rebuild.
The underwriting association, also known as the wind pool, is the insurer of last resort in the state, and it covers about 15,000 homes and businesses.
Dale said lawmakers must find a way to lower those rates without causing a significant increase in insurance costs in other areas.
“Katrina is part of the motor that’s driving insurance for the entire state right now with the effect brought on by the wind pool,” he said. “And unless the Legislature addresses some of our ideas on recoupment in some of the legislation, it would cause a problem for the entire state.”
If Dale wins re-election, he will be 70 when his eighth term expires. But he believes he still has the energy to be an effective leader. In the last week, he’s been to Pascagoula for a speaking engagement and to Lucedale where he handed over a check for new fire trucks. And he’ll travel to Tunica on Wednesday.
“I’m looking forward with a fire in my belly to another term as insurance commissioner,” he said.
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