Miss. Insurance Commissioner Chaney Has 2 Opponents

By DENNIS SEID | October 28, 2011

Louis Fondren, a Democrat from Gautier, and Barbara Dale Washer, the Reform Party candidate from Hattiesburg, seek to dislodge incumbent Mike Chaney as Mississippi insurance commissioner.

Chaney, 67, a Republican from Vicksburg, served in the state Legislature before being elected commissioner in 2007.

He says his accomplishments on the job are good reasons to keep him for another four years. His opponents say more can be done to keep insurance rates low enough.

Chaney counts among his achievements digitizing the department’s records, updating the agency’s website, recruiting 140 new insurance companies to the state, completing a nationally recognized $1 million hurricane wind mitigation study, helping create a $20 million grant-based mitigation program for Gulf Coast homeowners and giving back policyholders more than $11 million.

He also said under his leadership, the Insurance Department has recovered nearly $154 million related to jailed financial swindler Martin Frankel.

The insurance commissioner serves as state fire marshal, and in that capacity Chaney said his office has helped distribute more than 80,000 smoke alarms across the state and has become a national leader in arson arrests and convictions.

In addition, Chaney said much of his time is spent interpreting and enforcing a myriad of regulations coming from Washington.

“Keeping up with all that’s coming down is a difficult task,” he said. “Forty percent of our time has been spent on that the past three years. We’ve seen more changes during this time than I’ve seen in 30 years. And there’s more coming.”

Chaney said his focus remains on keeping insurance rates affordable, as well as preparing for health insurance reform.

Fondren, 79, an attorney, is a former mayor of Moss Point. He also was a judge and state representative. He said the key to low insurance rates is making the decision-making process open to the public. He wants to use public actuaries at insurance premium meetings.

Washer, 64, a retiree, said she’ll push for lower rates across the board. She said it was also important to attract more insurance providers.

Chaney has spent $106,302 and has $402,824 cash on hand, according to the most recent finance reports. Fondren has raised $5,582 and spent $4,982. He has $1,200 cash on hand. Washer has raised $200 – enough to cover her qualifying fee – and has no cash on hand.

The insurance commissioner also administers laws and regulations relating to insurance companies, corporations, associations and fraternal orders, their agents and adjusters.

As state fire marshal, the commissioner directs the investigation of all fires of a suspicious nature; administers the Mississippi Fire Prevention Code; and establishes guidelines, use and accountability for municipal and county fire protection funds.

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