Republican candidates for Louisiana insurance commissioner traded attacks in a debate on Sept. 11, leveling accusations of improper use of campaign funds and misuse of legislative perks.
James David Cain and Jim Donelon fielded some reporters’ questions about challenges that the insurance commissioner will face after the Sept. 30 election, but the focus was on the candidates’ attacks. They agreed, however, that damage and claims from last year’s hurricanes have given the normally low-profile insurance race a new importance.
“I dare say, never in the history of the state has there been a more important election,” Donelon said.
Donelon, the incumbent, accused Cain of improperly taking $60,000 in campaign money from an Alexandria bail bondsman and getting involved in a pyramid scheme that left dozens of residents a combined $80,000 poorer. Cain shook his head in denial, but did not directly answer the attacks.
Cain, a state senator from Dry Creek, said Donelon has mismanaged the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the quasi-state insurance firm for those who can’t afford insurance elsewhere. Cain also noted that Donelon, while a House member, awarded a Tulane University scholarship – a former perk for lawmakers – to his own daughter. Donelon has acknowledged that his daughter got the scholarship.
No Democrats entered the race to replace former Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley, who retired in February. The third candidate is Libertarian S.B.A. Zaitoon, a Baton Rouge insurance agent.
Term limits bar Cain from running for another four-year Senate term; he has been a member of the Legislature since 1972. He is chairman of the Senate’s insurance committee.
Donelon, of Metairie, has been in the insurance department for five years and was appointed commissioner by Wooley.
If elected, Cain said he would push to abolish the Louisiana Insurance Rating Commission, the state body that has the power to approve or reject insurance firms’ attempts to raise rates by more than 10 percent. Its members are appointed by the governor.
Cain said the commissioner, as an elected official, ought to take full responsibility for such decisions, then face voters at election time.
“I think the buck oughta stop with me,” he said.
Donelon said Cain, as a newcomer, would need extra time to adjust to the new position.
“I daresay, it’s not a time for on-the-job training,” Donelon said.
Zaitoon said the bickering between Cain and Donelon was proof that the insurance commissioner job should be appointed by the governor, not elected by the people. He said that change would bring professionalism to the position and eliminate political spats.
Cain, Donelon and Zaitoon spoke at a forum sponsored by the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
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