Donelon Narrowly Wins La. Insurance Commissioner Race

October 2, 2006

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon held onto his job in a special statewide election on Sept. 30, narrowly escaping a runoff to win the election in a campaign that bogged down in nasty attacks and allegations of wrongdoing.

The race wasn’t determined until the final votes were tallied early Sunday morning, but Donelon managed to hold onto his 50.1 percent majority and avoid a November runoff with state Sen. James David Cain, who ended with 39 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election returns from the secretary of state’s office.

Cain won’t ask for a recount or challenge the election results if Donelon is deemed the winner of the primary after the vote count is certified in a few days, said Chris Ingram, the senator’s campaign manager.

“James David Cain has never believed that the way to win an election is through lawsuits,” he said.

Analysts had predicted the mudslinging between Cain and Donelon in the race could boost votes for Libertarian insurance broker S.B.A Zaitoon, and Zaitoon did peel many votes away from the two major candidates, garnering 11 percent.

The election’s turnout was the lowest for a statewide ballot in at least a decade, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Only about 20 percent of Louisiana’s 2.9 million voters showed up at the polls for elections that generated little interest and competed with a series of college football games around the state. The lowest turnout for a statewide election previously was in the congressional runoff election in December 2004, when 23.5 percent of the voters cast ballots, said Jennifer Marusak, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office.

Even a slew of insurance issues since hurricanes Katrina and Rita, like cost hikes, dropped policies and disputes over damages, didn’t seem to energize the electorate about the three candidates.

“We have some real insurance issues, particularly now,” said Barry Erwin, head of the nonpartisan Council for A Better Louisiana. “And yet, there’s not a lot of talk about those issues. There’s just a lot of mudslinging going on.”

Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist, blamed some of the election disinterest on a slate of little known candidates and the troubled nature of the insurance commissioner’s office. Three commissioners have served time in federal prison for problems related to the job.

“As a result, I think people are less than optimistic that claims by the insurance commissioner can have any effect on their insurance rates or their own personal insurance fate,” Cross said.

Voters were choosing a commissioner to serve the final year of the term of Robert Wooley, who resigned in February to join a private law firm. Donelon, as Wooley’s chief assistant, took the position until the election.

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