Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — The incumbent and the challenger in the election for state insurance commissioner share a number of policy positions.
Commissioner Wayne Goodwin, a Democrat, and Mike Causey, a Republican, agree that the state needs to find more insurers willing to underwrite property near the coast. They believe that the state’s unusual rate bureau system needs to be tweaked to make North Carolina more attractive to insurers. And they express opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare, which they see as an infringement by the federal government on state operations.
Differences between the two start to show, however, when discussing Goodwin’s record during his only term in office.
The Department of Insurance regulates and licenses insurance companies and their agents, and also houses the Office of State Fire Marshal. Among its other duties, it licenses bail bondsmen, investigates consumer fraud, and interprets state building codes.
Goodwin, 45, a four-term state representative from Stanly County, was appointed to a post in the state’s insurance department three years before he was elected to lead it. He noted that Causey has run for the office three times and has yet to win.
“My proven record of saving over $1.4 billion for consumers and businesses, fighting insurance fraud and otherwise being somewhat experienced in the working and the mission of the department ... is a clear contrast with my opponent,” Goodwin said.
Causey, 62, is a Guilford County farmer and former insurance salesman and manager. He is a longtime columnist for a trade publication called Collision Expert, which he says provided him a platform for advising consumers. He successfully lobbied the General Assembly to make it easier for customers to get vehicles repaired at garages of their choosing. This change, Causey said, helped consumers as well as his clients, mom-and-pop auto repair shops that felt they were being squeezed out by larger repair chains that were favored by underwriters.
“In this race, the voters have a clear choice between a [career] politician or a consumer advocate that has the experience and the background to lead this department in a new direction,” Causey said.
Under Goodwin, Causey said, the insurance department has not been as responsive as it should be to public need, or to public requests for information. He also pointed to 2011 state audits showing difficulties the department has had tracking state-owned vehicles and buildings. Goodwin told the state auditor that because so many government agencies control property, addressing all the issues fully would require widespread cooperation and perhaps intervention by the General Assembly.
Goodwin said he sees his job as nonpartisan, pointing with pride to praise he has received from conservative- and free-market-oriented think tanks such as the Heartland Institute and the John Locke Foundation.
The often-overlooked race attracted attention this summer when Goodwin complained to state officials about campaign finance irregularities involving Causey. State Board of Elections officials indicated they would address the matter without convening a full hearing by the board, an indication that the alleged violations are not serious.
Causey has admitted some problems, including improperly labeled and reported advertising by the owner of the trade publication for which he writes, but he said they have been corrected. He downplayed the significance of the issues, and he said there are no further campaign finance irregularities.
A Causey victory would make him the first Republican to win election as insurance commissioner.
Goodwin was leading Causey 40 percent to 36 percent in an Aug. 8 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. The other 24 percent of voters were undecided. Goodwin leads 46-29 among women; Causey has a 44-33 advantage among men. Causey has a 44-31 percent advantage among white voters, but Goodwin leads 72-7 among African Americans and 42-29 among "other" races. Goodwin leads in the 18-29 and 30-45 age categories, while Causey is ahead in the 46-65 and 65 and older categories.
Matthew E. Milliken is a contributor to Carolina Journal.