Elected commissioners? No, thanks

Right now, 11 insurance commissioners are elected; the rest are appointed. Mark Ruquet at National Underwriter makes the case for more elected insurance commissioners. I disagree, and I think his column does, too.

Mark’s reasoning, as I glean it from his column:

  1. Elected officials provide longevity, and longevity will be important as the federal government steps up insurance regulation through the Federal Office of Insurance, one of the fruits of financial reform.The longest serving insurance commissioner, Georgia’s John W. Oxendine, is elected. Elected officials are more likely to stay in office, since it takes a lot of time and money to get there in the first place.
  2. Well, that’s kind of it.

The column praises the NAIC’s “intelligent and reasoned” discussions – much preferable to the squabbling found at local planning and zoning meetings.

I can only agree. Nothing worse than being a reporter hearing two sides argue passionately and endlessly about something literally – and by literally I do not mean figuratively – no one else cares about. Like a driveway. Till midnight.

Then your girlfriend – for me, this would be a long, long time ago – asks why you’re so late, and you have to tell her, thus deadening her life, too. She would probably prefer you had been at a strip club, or cheating. Vile behaviors, yes. But interesting.

Sorry, diverted a moment there. Back to the important topic – the sobriety of insurance commissioner debates. Ruquet cites two such discussions:

  • CT Commissioner Thomas R. Sullivan, rebuking the National Coalition of Insurance Legislators’ plan to draft its own model legislation, instead of waiting for model legislation from the NAIC. (The laws would govern Retained Asset Accounts. About those, here and here.)
  • Sullivan and IL Commissioner Michael T. McRaith, debating the merits of Obamacare.

Bubble-bursting me has to note the two commissioners praised here were appointed, not elected. And the organization being called to task for its haste is made up of elected officials. These sound like arguments for appointed insurance commissioners.

I’ve lived in six states and feel confident telling you elected insurance commissioners come in two types:

  • Commissioners who use the office as a political steppingstone. Exhibit A here would be Kathleen Sibelius, who leveraged the job into becoming governor of Kansas and now Secretary of Health and Human Services. John Garamendi in California would be another, except he couldn’t get elected governor.
  • Commissioners who stay a long time in office and end up accused of being captive to the industry, thanks to the largesse companies and agents show to the commissioner’s re-election campaign. Ruquet would address this by funneling insurance contributions into a blind fund. Not sure how this law would pass, nor am I sure the Roberts Court would let it stand.

On my soapbox, I argue that we elect too many people in this country, maybe because I grew up in a county where we had to elect somebody to look at dead people.

(True! County coroner is an elected office in Sangamon County, Illinois. Maybe Dexter should run!)

When there are too many elections, you never know who is responsible for the mess you’re in. Should I blame the governor? My state rep? My state rep? The insurance commissioner? The state CFO? Politicians all, none will step forward unless glory awaits.

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