North Carolina Commissioner’s in Select Company

By | January 6, 2009

It’s a select community. Only 11 state insurance commissioners across the country are elected rather than appointed. Wayne Goodwin is now one of the 11. He won the Nov. 4 election to succeed Jim Long, who first won the job in 1984 and stayed 24 years.

In an interview with Insurance Journal’s Andrew Simpson (see Dec. 1, 2008 issue of magazine), Goodwin noted that elected commissioners tend to serve longer than appointed commissioners. No doubt Jim Long, who was first elected in 1984, skewed those statistics. To his credit, the long-serving Long wasn’t forced out by scandal after 24 years; he decided on his own not to run for re-election.

Goodwin certainly needs no introduction to the Tar Heel State and its residents. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as well as the UNC School of law. He practiced law for 13 years before being elected in 1996 to the state House of Representatives where he served for eight years. In 2004 he lost a race for labor commissioner but that same year, his wife, Melanie, was elected to succeed him in the House.

In early 2005, Long asked him to be his assistant commissioner of insurance. In that capacity he has also served as the assistant state fire marshal. The fact that he has experience in the department was probably the key to his victory, Goodwin acknowledges.

Along with his legal, political and regulatory background, he brings a recognition of the value of independent agents. In fact, he is already setting up a series of meetings across the state with agents.

He wants to find ways for the department to utilize new technology — vowing to update the Web site regularly and even blog to keep people informed.

Even more important perhaps than his victory was the campaign that he and his opponent ran. The race was a test of publicly financed campaigns authorized by the state Legislature. Goodwin was the first candidate to accept public financing; his Republican opponent did as well.

Goodwin thinks the test was a success. In 2004, 66 percent of the funds raised by candidates for insurance commissioner were from entities regulated by the department. But this election, that percentage plummeted to just five percent.

Elected commissioners face different pressures than appointed commissioners, with fundraising being just one of them. It seems right to limit the funds from special interests, whether insurers or trial lawyers, for this job. Freeing candidates from fundraising promises to put the focus on substance and qualifications over process and politics. It could lessen the power of incumbency and the corrosion of conflicts of interest.

Now more than ever the job of state insurance commissioner requires knowledge, not connections; judgment, not favoritism. Perhaps the North Carolina experiment with public financing will become a model for other states where commissioners are elected, further advancing the goal of not more regulation but better regulation.

Meanwhile, congratulations are in order for Commissioner Goodwin not only for winning but also for the way he did it. He really is a member of a very select community now.

Topics Legislation North Carolina

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