Election results for Congress made the biggest headlines last week, but Washington, D.C. wasn’t the only focus of insurance industry political operatives on Election Day, as state races across the country directly and indirectly impacted the future of the business.
In California, Republican Steve Poizner won the insurance commissioner’s post, turning back a challenge from Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and taking half the vote, against about 39 percent for his opponent.
In other state races, incumbent insurance commissioners kept their jobs in Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma. In Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, Democrats took the governor’s office from a Republican, which will in all likelihood lead to the appointment of new insurance regulators.
In California, Mr. Poizner rode the coattails of re-elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, while also benefiting from a surprise endorsement from Proposition 103 author Harvey Rosenfield–primarily on the issue of campaign funding. Mr. Bustamante accepted and then returned $150,000 in insurance industry contributions after public pressure.
Meanwhile, California’s current insurance commissioner–Democrat John Garamendi, a longtime adversary of the industry–beat a Republican state senator, Tom McClintock, by about four percentage points in the race for lieutenant governor.
Sam Sorich, president of the Association of California Insurance Companies, said the new commissioner has a number of important issues on his desk as soon as he takes office Jan. 8–the most important of which involve rate reviews. He said he looks forward to a more positive relationship between the commissioner’s office and the industry following the exit of Mr. Garamendi, who frequently clashed with insurer and producer groups.
In other commissioner races:
o Oklahoma: Incumbent Democrat Kim Holland survived a nasty race to defeat state lawmaker Bill Case. Ms. Holland was the target of some sharp advertisements from out of state and out of the Case camp, questioning her ethics and qualifications for office.
o Kansas: GOP incumbent Sandy Praeger, currently vice president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, bucked a Democratic trend in her state to keep the post she has held for the past four years. Her predecessor, former NAIC President Kathleen Sebelius, rode to an easy victory as governor, and has been credited with the Democratic revival in the state.
o Georgia: GOP Commissioner John Oxendine won re-election, defeating Democrat Guy Drexinger. Earlier this year, he considered running for lieutenant governor in a race that gained national attention when evangelical Christian Ralph Reed went down to defeat in the GOP primary.
o Florida: In a state that faces crucial insurance questions in the coming years–including how to affordably cover catastrophes–Democrat Alex Sink turned back a challenge from state lawmaker Tom Lee for the recently created post of chief financial officer.
Ms. Sink and newly elected Gov. Charlie Crist have joint authority to appoint the new commissioner. There is no word on whether the current holder of that post, Kevin McCarty, will keep his job.
William Stander, Tallahassee-based regional manager for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, said it appears there will not be a special session this fall to deal with insurance-related issues due to a lack of consensus. In the campaign, outgoing Florida Gov. Jeb Bush criticized the insurance proposals of both Mr. Crist and his Democratic opponent.
Mr. Stander said he had hopes for Ms. Sink–who, as a former financial services executive, should have a good pro-business grasp of insurance issues, he noted.
o Massachusetts: The overwhelming election of Deval Patrick as governor could have some impact on efforts to reform the state’s auto residual market.