2008 Election Results: Coloring the Nation in a Purple Haze

2008 Election Results: Coloring the Nation in a Purple Haze

According to President-elect Obama, we’re not Democrats or Republicans anymore, we’re Americans. Breathing in the air at Grant Park on election night, one could almost believe that Red states and Blue states were uniting under a new shade of purple.

On the state level, any purple tinge in the mantle of power taken on by the new crop of insurance commissioners definitely originates from the blue quadrant of the color spectrum. With one lone exception, voters overwhelmingly favored Democratic candidates for the insurance commissioner elections held this year.

Mike Kreidler was re-elected as Washington insurance commissioner for a third term by a 61% margin over John Adams (who Kreidler also trounced in 2004). Kreidler is a knowledgeable, seasoned veteran with a new plan for healthcare reform. Adams raised no money and did very little campaigning. Perhaps the real story here would be to figure out how he managed to snag 39 percent of the vote.

For Democrat Karen Weldin-Stewart, the third time was definitely the charm. After losing the 2000 general election to Republican incumbent Donna Lee Williams and finishing behind outgoing insurance commissioner Matt Denn in the 2004 Democratic State Primary, Weldin-Stewart garnered 56% of the vote over Republican challenger John Brady. Tom Savage also ran as an Independent after Weldin-Stewart beat him in the primary. The new Delaware regulator’s career in the industry spans 20 years. Her proposals include cost containment initiatives in health insurance, tax credits for homeowners that hurricane-proof their homes and extensive education programs for young drivers.

Democrat Wayne Goodwin was elected as North Carolina's insurance commissioner, winning the race to succeed Jim Long, who has held that office for the last 24 years. As the deputy commissioner running with Long’s full support, it’s hardly surprising that Goodwin received 52% of the vote over his opponents, Republican John Odom (a former Raleigh City Council member) and Libertarian Mark McMains. But Goodwin has inherited the disastrous Beach Plan from his successor. Transforming the government-created insurance plan that has become the dominant form of coastal property insurance in North Carolina into the safety net for coastal property owners that was initially intended won’t be a stroll along the seashore for the new commissioner.

Another Democrat took the top insurance regulator spot in Montana with 53% of the vote. Monica Lindeen, who served in the Montana House of Representatives for four terms and is a former vice chairman of the Montana Democratic Party, was elected to serve as State Auditor (no, she won’t audit a thing) over former Republican State Senator Duane Grimes. The incumbent John Morrison, also a Democrat, was blocked from re-election because of term limits. Lindeen is now charged with regulating Montana’s third largest industry.

The most hotly contested battle for the office of insurance commissioner was waged in North Dakota between Republican Adam Hamm and State Representative Jasper Schneider. This race ran down to the wire, generated talk about a recount and resulted in a close victory for Hamm —the only Republican insurance commissioner elected in 2008—by 1,721 votes. Hamm, a former Cass County prosecutor, was appointed insurance commissioner in October 2007 by Gov. John Hoeven to finish the term of incumbent Republican Jim Poolman, when he resigned. The race was deadlocked until the morning after the election, when Schneider called Hamm to concede. Hamm’s website says he will continue to focus on bringing more insurance competition into the state and ensuring consumer protection. Hamm is also planning to send a proposal to the Legislature next session that will give the insurance department more oversight of Workforce Safety and Insurance.

The industry was also keeping an eye on the races for Governor in Missouri, Vermont, New Hampshire, Utah and West Virginia since a change in the governor’s office usually results in the appointment of a party-affiliated insurance commissioner. No new regulatory appointments are expected in Vermont, New Hampshire, Utah or West Virginia where incumbent governors were re-elected, but a new commissioner will be appointed in Missouri with the defeat of Republican congressman Kenny Hulshof by Democrat Attorney General Jay Nixon.

I live in Chicago, the current political capital of the world. In this town, Democrats and Republicans are kind of like the Cubs and the White Sox—both sides do the same thing for a living but go about their business in very different ways. But insurance commissioners dare not take sides along party lines in the current political climate. Whether they align themselves with Democrats, Republicans or Martians, state insurance commissioners will be fighting for their very survival as Congress turns its collective eye towards our industry. There’s a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater coming to Washington, and he’s applying for the job of federal insurance regulator.