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Commissioner Races Could Shape Sales Standards Debate

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California voters will get to decide today on whether to bring their old Republican insurance commissioner back as an independent, or make a Democratic candidate with little insurance experience their new commissioner.

Voters will also be electing insurance commissioners in Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma.

(Related: How Life Insurers (Just Barely) Escaped a Tax Bill Catastrophe…)

Commissioners in all of these states could play a major role in shaping efforts at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to develop new life insurance and annuity sales and marketing standards proposals,  and other regulatory proposals.

Because California is such a large market in its own right, the winner of the race there could play an especially prominent role in sales standards efforts.

Here’s a look at the four states’ insurance commissioner races.

California: Ricardo Lara, Steve Poizner

Lara is running as a Democrat.

Poizner is running as an independent.

One of the candidates will succeed Dave Jones, who is leaving office because of California’s term limits law.

Lara has had little direct involvement with the insurance industry. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and Spanish from San Diego State University, and he has worked in and around the California State Legislature since 2006.

He served in the California Assembly from 2010 through 2012. Since then, he has been a member of the California Senate.

In his official candidate statement, he notes that his parents sacrificed to buy life insurance, and that he himself wrote a law that made health insurance available to 250,000 additional California children.

“I believe that a healthy, honest, and competitive insurance market is one of the most important ways to provide the security we all need,” Lara says in his candidate statement. “The job of California’s insurance commissioner is really about two things — making sure that insurance is priced fairly and that if we ever need to use it, our claim will be handled fairly.”

Poizner, who served as California’s insurance commissioner as a Republican from 2007 through 2011, also has little direct experience with the insurance industry, aside from his terms as the state’s commissioner.

Poizner earned a bachelor’s degree in electric and electronics engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1978, and a master’s degree in business from Stanford University in 1980.

He was a consultant from 1980 through 1983, the founder and head of a digital mapping company from 1983 through 1995, and the founder and head of a cell phone GPS company from 1995 through 2001.

He then served as a White House fellow from 2001 through 2002, and as a high school teacher from 2002 through 2003.

Since leaving the commissioner’s post, he has worked as the general manager of a tech company, a national co-chairman of John Kasich’s Republican presidential primary bid, and the founder and head of the Alliance for Southern California Innovation, a tech industry support organization.

Poizner says in his official candidate statement that urgent insurance issues facing Californians include the ongoing premium increases in health insurance markets and the growing economic threat of cyber-crime.

Georgia: Donnie Foster, Janice Laws, Jim Beck

Foster is running as a Libertarian.

Laws is running as a Democrat.

Beck is running as a Republican.

One of the candidates will succeed Ralph Hudgens, who decided not to seek re-election.

Foster is an Army veteran, an ex-sheriff’s deputy and a truck driver. On his website, he says, “You earned it. You keep it. I mean it.” He lists only property-casualty insurance issues and general public policy issues on his website. He does not mention life, health or retirement issues there.

Laws has an associate degree in business from Shorter University. She has worked as an insurance agent selling products such as auto insurance, homeowners insurance and life insurance for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, MetLife and Nationwide. She owns J. Laws & Associates LLC, an Atlanta-based insurance and financial services agency that serves small business owners and individuals.

On her website, Law focuses mainly on car insurance premiums and health insurance premiums.

“Our seniors, veterans and other at-risk families experience fraud and predatory insurance practices every day,” Laws says of her views on health insurance. “As your insurance commissioner, I will access and investigate predatory practices of insurance companies, as well as those who seek to defraud our communities. I will protect consumers from those who break the rules, regulations, policies, procedures and/or our laws. I will work with the legislature to enact legislature that holds these corporations and entities accountable for their predatory practices and to repeal and replace laws that do not have the best interest of all Georgians as a top priority.”

Beck has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of West Georgia.

Beck was the deputy insurance commissioner at the Georgia Department of Insurance from 1995 through 1997, then again from 2008 through 2011.

He was senior director of government relations at Nationwide from 1997 through 2008, and he has been general manager of operations at the Georgia Underwriting Association since 2012.

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Beck says on his website that he supports conservative leadership and that his views are founded on faith.

His list of priorities includes defending consumers against fraud and promoting free-market-centered health care solutions.

“Day one, I will work to make a free-market-centered health care system that better serves Georgia families a reality,” Beck says on his website. “The federal government should get out of the way and allow Georgia to explore and find creative market-driven, state-based solutions to the issue of access to health care. The easiest way to empower states is through a federal waiver called a 1332 State Innovation Waiver. I will promote competition by encouraging the marketing of health insurance across state lines and to allow hospital systems to design and market health insurance products to consumers.”

Kansas: Nathaniel McLaughlin, Vicki Schmidt

McLaughlin is running as a Democrat.

Schmidt is running as a Republican.

One of the candidates will succeed Ken Seltzer, who tried unsuccessfully to run for governor of Kansas.

McLaughlin has a bachelor’s degree from Winston-Salem State University. In 2013, he was the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Prince Hall Masonry for Kansas, according to his website. He is retired from a post as a district manager for Sodexo Healthcare Services, an arm of Sodexo S.A. that supplies products to hospitals.

He says on his website that he supports the Affordable Care Act Medicaid expansion program and other ACA programs.

Schmidt has a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the University of Kansas.

She has worked as a pharmacist for decades. She has been a member of the Kansas state Senate since 2005.

She says on her website that, in the state Senate, she “voted to ensure Kansas families could count on insurance companies to cover the critical treatments needed for children diagnosed with autism.”

She told the Topeka Capital-Journal in October that she supports  the ACA Medicaid expansion program.

Oklahoma: Glen Mulready, Kimberly Fobbs

Mulready is running as a Republican.

Fobbs is running as a Democrat.

One of the candidates will succeed Jim Doak, who is leaving his office because of term limits.

Mulready was vice president of marketing at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma from 2001 through 2007. He is now a broker and consultant at Benefit Plan Strategies, in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area.

He has served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He is now the state House majority floor leader, and a former chair of the state House Insurance Committee.

He has received the Oklahoma State Association of Health Underwriters Underwriter of the Year Award, according to his campaign website.

On his site, he says his plan for being insurance commissioner includes safeguarding consumers, making sure Oklahoma insurers are stable, expanding insurance options, making the state insurance market business-friendly, and fighting fraud.

Fobbs has attended the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Tulsa.

She worked at MetLife in variety of roles, including strategic data manager and metrics manager, from 1990 through 2006.

From 2007 through 2013, she was the marketing director at Luxa Enterprises, a web design firm that serves small businesses.

From 2014 through 2016, she was a business intelligence analyst at BlackHawk Industrial.

She has been the chairwoman of the Tulsa County Democratic Party since March 2017.

Fobbs says on her website that she wants to protect the wallets of consumers, “not those of special interests.”

“It’s time we have an insurance commissioner that stands on the promise to make sure insurance companies follow the rules and get people the affordable coverage they need in every aspect of their lives,” Fobbs says. ​ “I will inform our legislators about preventing laws crafted by lobbyists to promote their own agendas and fight to simplify the language of basic policies; making sure families, businesses, farmers and ranchers can get and afford coverage,” Fobbs says.

She says she might propose paying a fee to citizens and workers who report allegations of insurance-related wrongdoing that lead to recoveries of funds.

— Read Kansas on Track to Get Outsider Insurance Commissioneron ThinkAdvisor.

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