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State insurance posts draw host of newcomers

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In the November elections, newcomers to the insurance regulatory community are vying for top insurance posts in California and Florida, which have the nation's first- and third-largest insurance departments, respectively.

Meanwhile, observers say incumbent insurance commissioners are expected to easily win re-election in the three remaining contests--Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Turnover among governor-appointed insurance commissioners may occur, though, depending on the outcome of gubernatorial races in at least six states where commissioners do not serve set terms. Incumbent governors are not seeking re-election in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York and Ohio, according to the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners.

Business Insurance has highlighted the 10 main candidates seeking four-year terms as insurance commissioner in their respective states.

California

California voters will chose between two newcomers to the insurance industry--Democrat Cruz Bustamante and Republican Steve Poizner.

Although current Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi is not seeking re-election, his name is on the ballot for the lieutenant governor contest. Mr. Garamendi, a Democrat, is engaged in a close race with state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks.

Mr. Bustamante, the state's two-term lieutenant governor, previously served as the speaker of the California's General Assembly.

Mr. Poizner, who was trained as an electrical engineer, founded SnapTrack, a successful Silicon Valley company from which he retired. In recent years, he has engaged in civic projects including a nonpartisan White House fellowship and a year teaching in an East San Jose high school.

Mr. Poizner's pledge to refuse industry contributions resulted in Mr. Bustamante adopting a similar position during his campaign, said Nicole Mahrt, the Sacramento-based public affairs director for the American Insurance Assn.'s western region.

"Most political pundits in California give Poizner the advantage primarily because of his campaign funding," which included a recent $11 million ad buy, she said. In addition, he has run an issues-oriented campaign and been endorsed by most major newspapers.

Florida

Voters will chose between two newcomers--Republican Tom Lee and Democrat Adelaide Sink--to fill the post of chief financial officer, whose duties include overseeing insurance and banking-related services in Florida.

Incumbent CFO Tom Gallagher did not run for re-election and lost a bid to become the GOP nominee for governor.

Mr. Lee is a real estate broker and vp-finance at Sabal Homes of Florida Inc., a Tampa-area homebuilder. He is president of the Florida Senate, where he is completing his second, four-year term and is term-limited.

After 24 years in banking, Adelaide Sink retired in 2000 as the Florida president of Bank of America. She also served on state commissions and several community organizations.

"This is an interesting race because you have two, well-qualified candidates," said Julie Pulliam, who is the Atlanta-based public affairs director for the American Insurance Assn.'s Southeast region.

Ms. Sink, however, has received endorsements from most of the major newspapers in the state.

Other states

Incumbents in Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma are expected to easily win re-election, observers say.

Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, a Republican, is seeking his fourth, four-year term after curtailing a short-lived bid to become lieutenant governor. His Democratic opponent is Guy Drexinger, a Marietta attorney.

Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, a Republican, is seeking her second term after winning a contested primary race. Her Democratic opponent is Bonnie Sharp of Wyandotte County, who has served in the Kansas State House for the past 10 years.

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland, a Democrat, is seeking her first elected term. She was appointed in January 2005 to fill out the term of Carroll Fisher, who resigned after being impeached on corruption charges. Ms. Holland's Republican opponent is Bill Case of Midwest City, an insurance agent who has been a state representative since 1994 and is term-limited.