The race for the office of Louisiana Insurance Commissioner has a certain deja vu quality this year; all seven candidates are running on the same reform platform that the winner of the 1987 election used.
While the previous election only hinted at corruption, the candidates this go-round can bite into actual meat this time. They all are promising to clean up the office from which former commissioner Doug Green resigned earlier this year following his conviction on money laundering charges.The primary election Saturday will determine which candidates most Louisiana voters believe.
The two front-runners are former state officials: Jim Brown, 52, a two- term secretary of state (1979-1987), who practices law in Baton Rouge, and Sherman Bernard, 66, who held the insurance commissioner's job for four terms until Mr. Green defeated him in 1987.
The remainder of the pack includes a New Orleans city councilwoman, three insurance agents and a realtor. Under Louisiana's non-partisan electoral system, one candidate must collect more than 50 percent of the vote or the top two candidates face off in a Nov. 16 runoff.
In the last election, the boyish Mr. Green successfully unseated Mr. Bernard by promising reform and casting a shadow on the incumbent's record.
As it turned out, Mr. Green's $3 million campaign was not only the most expensive for that office, it was financed by Champion Insurance Co., the state's third-largest auto insurer, which went belly up in 1989 and left Louisiana taxpayers to pick up $180 million in unpaid claims.
Premiums and insurance company insolvencies are at record highs. National insurers are exiting the state in growing numbers.
Unfortunately, this sad state of affairs has failed to attract the public attention the race deserves. Instead, it has been overshadowed by a much more colorful, three-way heat for the governor's race.
In the race for insurance commissioner, Mr. Bernard eschews his former image as a regulator who routinely solicited and accepted contributions from the industry.
During Mr. Green's trial, former Champion co-owner Naaman Eicher testified that Mr. Bernard asked for a $25,000 contribution, but the Eichers chose to back Mr. Green because they didn't trust the incumbent.
Mr. Bernard has denied the accusation, and has vowed not to accept further contributions from insurers. He also has admitted that licensing convicted felons to run insurance companies was a mistake, although the practice is not illegal.
Mr. Brown, who lost a bid for governor four years ago, enjoys widespread popularity from his statewide cable TV show. Respected as a serious candidate who tackles issues, the Democrat has published a 71-page document outlining his reform proposals.
Republican New Orleans City Councilwoman Peggy Wilson could be a challenge to the front-runners because of her local popularity in the state's largest metropolitan area. Mrs. Wilson is best known for her proposal to limit city council seats to two terms.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Bernard both advocate abolishing the state's insurance rating commission and turning that duty over to the department. Mr. Brown and Mrs. Wilson both support establishing advisory committees to help solve the crises in health, workers comp and automobile insurance.
Neal Burke of Broussard, and Eugene Guffy and Edward Fletcher, both of Baton Rouge, say their experience running insurance companies would help them reorganize the office.
New Orleans realtor Florence Robinson, who is making her first bid for public office, says she would bring a consumer's perspective to the office.