SADOW: Maybe It’s Time For Louisiana To Appoint Its Insurance Commissioners

The time has come to eliminate one more opportunity for political aggrandizement and reduce the potential for corruption by making Louisiana’s commissioner of insurance an appointive rather than elective office.

Republican state Sen. Kirk Talbot has offered SB 208 for the legislative session soon to start, which would accomplish this. The commissioner would be appointed for a six year term, maximum two, by the governor from a list of three nominees by a committee of legislators, designees of other elected state executives, and representatives of related interest groups. It would apply after inauguration day, 2024. Because of a constitutional provision addressing statewide elected officials, two-thirds majorities would have to assent.

Louisiana goes overboard with its statewide elected officials, with its seven among the most of the states. Elected insurance commissioners aren’t common, with only nine other states having these and in a few instances their functions are combined with others.

That few states elect theirs makes sense when comparing the advantages and disadvantages. Certainly, elections bring a popular mandate to performing the job, but ideally the job largely comprises of administration without much chance to make policy that, largely, the Legislature dictates. If elected, where policy may be influenced by this official would have a bias towards lower rates, since voters overwhelmingly, if not unanimously, prefer lower rates over higher. However, this can prove problematic if a commissioner can and does influence rates to go too low that discourages policy-writing that either leaves gaps or forces the state to step in regardless at higher costs to other ratepayers or taxpayers.

Election of commissioners brings no guarantee of competence much less expertise, and perhaps encourages the opposite. Prior to present GOP Commissioner Jim Donelon taking office, almost all of his several predecessors spanning a half-century either went to jail for activities while in office or vacated it early under a cloud of suspicion. Corruption isn’t preventable just by having someone appointed, but at least the appointers (if honest) have a vested interest in naming someone trusted because an appointee gone bad makes the one who put him there look wanting in judgment, if not guilty by association, that doesn’t do a whole lot to continue an elective career.

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Talbot’s bill maximizes the opportunity to put a competent and honest person in office. The multi-stage process provides many checks and increases the chances of choosing ability over connections for a job largely executory of legislative intention. By contrast, elections make it easy to pitch promises that have little to do with the office and/or little chance of fulfillment to an electorate the vast majority of which its members have no idea about what the office is about or is capable of what policy-making.

Besides taking money needed for running a campaign out of the equation, staggering the term and limiting it increases the independence of the commissioner from the appointers. If on the front end appointers concentrate on finding a commissioner more interested in administration than politicking, they won’t have a rogue regulator unmoored from checks (which the Legislature still could apply by statute or, to a lesser extent budgetary pressure since the department largely is self-financed) but a competent bureaucrat.

This change may not sell easily. Especially term-limited legislators often look for their next elective job and removing this from election takes away a potential landing spot. Political consultants and media might not like the idea because it means fewer campaign dollars flowing their way.

But it makes sense, and something like SB 208 needs enactment for post-2023.

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