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Meet the 14 women who run state insurance departments

During the tumultuous climate surrounding Women's History Month 2017, we take a look at the nation's 14 female state insurance commissioners. (Photo: Shutterstock)
During the tumultuous climate surrounding Women's History Month 2017, we take a look at the nation's 14 female state insurance commissioners. (Photo: Shutterstock)

On Jan. 21, a day after President Trump's inauguration, women rose up and marched: over five million worldwide and one million in Washington, D.C.

The historic march is believed by some to be the largest demonstration in American history. The Women's March on Washington has given us a preview of the power of women in today's ever-more connected society. But as always, women have been a force to be reckoned with, especially when they're unified under a common cause.

With Women's History Month kicking off today, it's important to remember its origins. What started out as National Women's History Week under President Carter blossomed into Congress declaring the entire month of March 1987 as National Women's History Month.

The theme this year is "Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business." In keeping with the theme, we're casting a light on 14 trailblazing women who head the departments of insurance in their states. Their backgrounds and experiences are varied, but they all bring a strong commitment to regulating the insurance industry in their jurisdictions to protect their consumers.

Related: 10 states with the highest and lowest homeowners' insurance rates

Here are the 14 women who currently lead state insurance departments:

Alaska: Lori K. Wing-Heier


Lori K. Wing-Heier was appointed director of the Alaska Division of Insurance in February 2014 and continues to protect Alaskan consumers in 2017. She has 30 years of experience in the insurance industry as a broker and an agent. 

Before taking on the director’s role, she served as the director of risk management for an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporation, where she designed and implemented a comprehensive enterprise-wide risk management program. She’s also been a senior vice president at a national brokerage working with Alaskan, and was president of the Alaska Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers Inc.

Wing-Heier is a 30-year resident of Alaska. She makes her home with her family in Anchorage, where the director of insurance position is located. Wing-Heier attended North Central Michigan College and holds the Certified Insurance Counselor and Certified Risk Manager designations.

Related: What do those letters mean? A look at insurance professional designations

Arizona: Leslie Hess


Leslie R. Hess was appointed interim director of the Arizona Department of Insurance effective February 2016. Hess has worked in the insurance and financial services industry for over 25 years.

Prior to taking on the director's role, Hess served as the director of compliance and corporate secretary for Oxford Life Insurance Company and its subsidiaries. Hess has both private and public sector experience having spent 11 years at the Arizona Department of Insurance.

Hess also spent two years at the Arizona Legislature at Legislative Council and she worked in the securities division at the Arizona Corporation Commission for seven years. Early in her career, she worked as an attorney for both Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns in New York City. 

Hess has a Juris Doctor from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She has lived in Arizona since 1991, where she was a founding member of the Cactus Wren Chapter of the National Charity League.

Related: Go-Pro video leads to conviction of auto insurance fraud suspect

 Colorado: Marguerite Salazar


Colorado Insurance Commissioner Marguerite SalazarMarguerite Salazar was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper as Colorado insurance commissioner in 2013 and has continued to serve the state since.  

Salazar's role is key in assisting consumers and other stakeholders with insurance, particularly by working with the insurance industry to bring an inclusive and fair-minded regulatory approach to all lines of insurance under her supervision such as life, homeowner, property and casualty, auto, workers’ compensation and title insurance.

Previously, President Barack Obama appointed Salazar as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Region VIII. As regional director she played a vital role in the Department’s effort to effectively implement the Affordable Care Act.

Prior to this appointment, she served over 20 years as president and CEO of Valley-Wide Health Systems, a large, rural community health center covering 22 counties in Southern Colorado and serving over 40,000 patients through 26 primary health care clinics. 

Salazar holds a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a fellow at the National Hispana Leadership Institute.

Connecticut: Katharine L. Wade


Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Katharine L Wade

From Colorado we move to Connecticut and Katharine L. Wade, who was appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Since March 2015, Wade has served as Connecticut's 32nd insurance commissioner, relying on over 20 years of industry experience in the fields of public policy, regulatory compliance, consumer education and outreach. 

Wade's commitment to public outreach has enhanced consumer education and customer service. "Insurance Matters," a free online publication focusing on topical issues, has boosted public awareness of the benefits the Department can provide with insurance-related matters. 

With Wade under center, the Department continues to be active in regulatory discussions to ensure a competitive industry and a saturated market for consumers. The Department is a lead regulatory on eight supervisory colleges and participating regulator in seven supervisory colleges for companies that have divisions in Connecticut.  

While at Cigna from 1992 to 2013, Wade led a 130-member national team responsible for federal and state governmental affairs, public policy and compliance for Cigna’s health, group life and disability businesses in her capacity as vice president. During the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Wade oversaw Cigna’s compliance with all ACA’s laws and regulations. 

Wade earned a bachelor’s in history from Simmons College in Boston.

Illinois: Jennifer Hammer 


The insurance world saw a shakeup in Illinois. 

Jennifer Hammer has been appointed as director of the Illinois Department of Insurance (DOI) by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Hammer brings more than a decade of experience in healthcare law and policy to the DOI. 

Prior to her appointment, Jennifer served as the deputy chief of staff for policy in the office of the governor. Before that, she served as special counsel to the governor and policy adviser for healthcare and human services. 

Hammer has a bachelor's in justice studies from Arizona State University and a Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law. 

Related: Here are the top 10 states people are moving from

Missouri: Chlora Lindley-Myers


Gov. Eric Greitens has selected Chlora Lindley-Myers to lead the Missouri Department of Insurance, pending approval. Lindley-Myers currently serves as deputy commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance. 

Lindley-Myers would replace Acting Director John F. Rehagen if approved by the Missouri Senate. 

Lindley-Myers began her career working for the Connecticut General Assembly. She also spent ten years in underwriting and claims administration at Aetna Life and Casualty. 

Lindsey-Myers is the first Tennessee regulator to receive the Robert Dineen Award for Outstanding Service and Contribution to the State Regulation of Insurance, a recognition for service as insurance regulator.

Nevada: Barbara Richardson 


In the year of the wild card, Nevada experienced a curve ball. 

Barbara Richardson has been appointed commissioner of the Nevada Division of Insurance after a months-long nationwide recruitment following the resignation of Scott Kipper in July 2015.

Richardson has served as the director of operations and fraud for the New Hampshire Insurance Department for the past 11 years, where she managed multiple units including business, budget, IT, human resources, criminal investigation, licensing and premium tax collection. In that capacity, she served as a state representative at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and was active on a number of working groups and task forces.

Barbara is a graduate of Vassar College and has a law degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and an MBA from Loyola University in Chicago.

New York: Maria T. Vullo 


Maria T. Vullo has been the superintendent of New York State Department of Financial Services since June 2016. 

The Department of Financial Services is charged with protecting consumers and markets in New York State from fraud and financial crises, as well as reforming the regulation of financial services to keep pace with dynamic changes within the industry. The department was created in 2011 by the merger of the state’s banking and insurance departments.

Prior to her role as superintendent, Vullo was a litigation partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where she led civil, criminal and regulatory investigations before court and governmental authorities across the country. 

Vullo earned her law degree from the New York University School of Law, a master's degree in public administration from the New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service as part of its Executive Leadership Program, and a bachelor's degree from the College of Mount Saint Vincent.

She is a member of the boards of directors of the National Organization of Italian-American Women and the ERA Coalition Inc.

(Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM)

Related: Vullo seeks corporate, consumer balance as N.Y. insurance regulator 

Ohio: Mary Taylor 


Mary Taylor was sworn in as Ohio's 65th lieutenant governor January 2011, sworn in to her second term in office on Jan. 2015, and has continued to serve Ohio's citizens since. 

Taylor was appointed under Gov. Kasich to lead Ohio's Common Sense Initiative (CSI) to reform Ohio's regulatory policies.

In 2006, Taylor was the first certified public accountant to be elected to serve as auditor of state, and she transformed the office into a nationally recognized, 21st-century government auditing firm. 

Taylor was first elected to the state legislature in 2002 and re-elected in 2004. She was a member of the House Finance, Ways and Means, and Education committees and was recognized by the United Conservatives of Ohio as a "Watchdog of Treasury." The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) named Taylor a "Guardian of Small Business" for her outstanding voting record on behalf of Ohio's small-business owners.

Taylor earned a bachelor's degree in accounting and a master's degree in taxation from the University of Akron.

Oregon: Laura Cali Robison 


In January 2016, Laura Cali Robison became the administrator of the Division of Financial Regulation, overseeing the regulation of Oregon's insurance, banking, credit union, securities and consumer finance industries. The division is part of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, Oregon's largest consumer protection and business regulatory agency, which has an annual budget of $40 million.

Robison first served as Oregon's insurance commissioner on July 2013. Her time in government began as a casualty actuary specializing in workers' compensation and medical malpractice. 

Robison previously worked as a consulting actuary for Towers Watson in San Francisco, overseeing projects for self-insured companies, public entities and insurers. She started her career at Liberty Mutual’s home office in Boston, building rating models for workers’ compensation and general liability lines of business.

Robison became heavily involved in health insurance issues in 2012 as chief actuary and manager of the division’s Product Regulation section. In that position and as commissioner, she has led the division’s efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act.

Robison grew up in Sonoma, Calif. and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and economics from Boston University. She is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society and a member of the American Academy of Actuaries. 

Related: Willis Tower Watson Appoints 6 to New Roles in Corporate Risk & Broking 

Pennsylvania: Teresa D. Miller


Teresa D. Miller was appointed insurance commissioner by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in January 2015, and Miller has continually served the state upon her confirmation back in June 2015. 

During her time as commissioner, Miller has increased the department's consumer protection, outreach and education efforts, and has made the department's operations more transparent in an effort to make consumer protection a top priority. 

As Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, Miller established a one-stop webpage for consumer information on residential flood insurance, including private market insurance, which is often less costly for homeowners than the federal government's flood coverage. 

Other initiatives include responding to concerns about a so-called "widow's penalty," enforcing mental health parity laws, and including 3D annual screen mammograms as covered at no cost to the patient. 

In addition to the Department’s work, Miller is a national leader on insurance issues that impact consumers. At the NAIC, she chairs the Senior Issues Task Force and its Long-Term Care Innovation Subgroup, which is examining the future of private solutions to long-term care financing, with a focus on removing barriers to pursue concrete solutions that can pave the way for the private market to play a more meaningful role in financing the long-term care needs of society.

Miller received her Juris Doctor from Willamette University College of Law, and her bachelor's degree, magna cum laude, from Pacific Lutheran University.

Rhode Island: Elizabeth Kelleher Dwyer


Elizabeth Kelleher Dwyer was appointed deputy director and superintendent of insurance and banking on January 2016 and continues to serve in 2017. 

Prior, Dwyer had been employed by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation for 15 years. Before her government service, she was engaged in private law practice in California and Rhode Island, specializing in insurance regulation and litigation. 

Dwyer previously served as president of the Rhode Island Women's Bar Association and served on the Rhode Island Supreme Court Advisory Committee on gender in the Courts. In 2010, she was awarded the Rhode Island Attorney General's Justice Award for Consumer Protection. 

Dwyer received a bachelor's degree in political science and public administration from Providence College in 1982 and a J.D. from Pepperdine University in 1985. 

Related: Corporate governance in 2017 

Tennessee: Julie Mix McPeak


Julie Mix McPeak continues to serve the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance since being appointed by Governor Bill Haslam in January 2011. 

Before being named to lead the department, McPeak practiced as counsel to the insurance practice group of law firm Burr & Forman LLP. 

She served as executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance (KOI) prior to leading Tennessee's Department of Commerce and Insurance. 

McPeak has more than 20 years of legal and administrative experience in state government. She is the first woman to serve as chief insurance regulator in more than one state. 

McPeak has longstanding ties with NAIC. She was elected secretary-treasurer in Nov. 2015, has served on the NAIC's Executive Committee since 2013, and has been an active NAIC participant for nearly 20 years. 

In addition to her leadership duties with the NAIC, McPeak is also an executive committee member of the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS) and a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Insurance (FACI).

McPeak received her Juris Doctor from the University of Louisville, School of Law in 1994. She is a 1990 graduate of the University of Kentucky, where she received her B.B.A., with distinction, in Marketing.

Virginia: Jacqueline K. Cunningham


Jacqueline K. Cunningham is the 13th Virginia commissioner of insurance. She was first appointed to the position by the State Corporation Commission in January 2011. 

Cunningham has been deputy commissioner of the life and health division of the SCC's Bureau of Insurance for more than six years. She had been employed by the SCC in various capacities within the Bureau since 1993. 

Cunningham has been actively engaged in efforts of the NAIC regarding state responses to the requirements of federal health care law. 

She also is actively engaged with the Virginia Health Reform Commission to provide technical support to its efforts to ensure meaningful reform that meets the needs of Virginia’s citizens and government.

Cunningham currently serves as vice chair of the Producer Licensing (EX) Task Force and as vice chair of the IIPRC.

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