Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Mississippi Insurance Commission loses Primary

Dale says Scruggs, Katrina cost him re-election

By SHELIA BYRD Associated Press Writer

All may have contributed to his loss to former state fiscal officer Gary Anderson for the Democratic nomination for insurance commissioner.

"I think voters wanted change," Anderson said.

Dale, with 32 years in office, is the nation's longest serving insurance commissioner. Incomplete and unofficial returns showed Anderson with 51 percent of the vote. Dale had 49 percent.

Anderson faces Republican state Sen. Mike Chaney in the Nov. 6 general election.

Dale said he knows what cost him his bid for a ninth term.

"Two things that were major factors ... were Katrina and Dickie Scruggs. That's pretty much what it was," Dale said.

Dale said he had tried to remind voters of his record in office while his opponent "ran nothing but attack George Dale ads."

Many of the advertisements attacking Dale were paid for by the political action committee, Mississippians for Fair Elections, which was created to target his campaign. The PAC's major donor was Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, who described Dale as a "voice for big insurance."

Scruggs, whose law firm represents hundreds of Gulf Coast homeowners in lawsuits against insurers, contributed $250,000 to the PAC, saying the amount was small in comparison to the millions of dollars insurance companies have refused to pay Gulf Coast residents who lost their homes and businesses when Katrina devastated the region in August 2005.

Dale, through a mediation program, has helped hundreds of other property owners resolve their disputes with insurers without litigation. Scruggs, however, said the mediation program "has no teeth in it."

Scruggs' law firm also ran its own newspaper and television ad campaign against Dale. One newspaper cartoon depicted Dale as pig whose lipstick was being applied by insurance executives.

Anderson and Scruggs also criticized Dale for accepting campaign cash from the insurance industry, which he was elected to regulate within the state.

"It's interesting to me that the press basically has for years attempted to make an issue about $100 contributions I would get from some insurance agent in Grenada, Miss., but yet they've allowed one person, by his own admission, to absolutely attempt to buy an office and there's been limited publicity about it," Dale said.

Criticism of Dale began soon after Hurricane Katrina, when property owners tried to recoup their losses from insurance policies and many of them learned that their coverage didn't include the flooding caused by the storm.

After Katrina, many of the state's insurance providers raised their policy premiums. At least one, State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., the state's largest homeowner insurer, suspended writing new homeowner and commercial policies statewide.

Dale was accused by some of favoring the insurance companies in payoff disputes with storm victims and by others of failing to force insurers to hold down their rates.

Earlier this year, Dale was embroiled in another controversy over his re-election bid. The state Democratic Executive Committee sought to remove him from the party ballot.

Committee members argued that Dale shouldn't run under the party label because he publicly supported President Bush for re-election in 2004. In May, a Calhoun County judge reversed the decision and put Dale back on Tuesday's ballot.

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