Saturday, August 2, 2008

State Employees Endorse Wayne Goodwin for NC Insurance Commissioner

The Employees Political Action Committee (EMPAC) of the State Employees Association of North Carolina endorsed Wayne Goodwin to be North Carolina's next Insurance Commissioner.

"We're thrilled to support candidates who support the state's working families and the retirees who dedicated their careers to serving North Carolina's citizens," said SEANC President Linda Rouse Sutton.

Goodwin was excited by the endorsement.

"As a fellow State employee, I am honored and humbled to have the strong support of our State Employees Association of North Carolina," said Wayne Goodwin.

"I have spent my life championing the cause of working families and protecting consumers. My lifetime of working on issues that matter to our state employees - and my work already as Assistant Insurance Commissioner - make me the best and only qualified choice for Insurance Commissioner," he said. "SEANC's endorsement is greatly appreciated. I will never let down our State employees."

SEANC has more than 55,000 members.

Electing Council of State is the Right Thing to Do

With all due respect to my many good friends who may have a different view, in this day and age it is all the more vital that North Carolina continues to elect certain Council of State offices, if not all of them, as they are presently constituted.

Some well-intentioned opponents have stated that our Statewide ballot is too long. These same folks promote the concept of shortening the ballot; in other words, taking voters out of the equation and making most of the Council of State offices appointed rather than popularly elected. Of course, that conclusion does not appear to fit with the original premise prompting recent proposals – which was that it is a sad situation when such a low number of voters turned out for the 2008 runoff election for Labor Commissioner and at the cost of $5 million.

For the moment let's skip that original premise and go straight to what I perceive is the crux of my argument.

Why do I believe that we should maintain the election of our Council of State officers?

First, as I am wont to do, let's take a look back at history. Eighteenth century North Carolinians rejected the horrid treatment by the Royal governors from our pre-Revolutionary War days, and decided from that point forward, and moreso later in the 19th century, that never again would we allow a Governor to have unchecked, consolidated, unitary power. Tar Heel leaders then and through the present decided to apportion the authority of various State agencies among elected officials charged with leading their respective agency. Those officers include Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General, and Insurance Commissioner. In addition to serving as an agency head, these officers serve an additional Executive Branch role as members of the Council of State, deciding matters pertaining to State property and the like, and advising the Governor on various and sundry things. The theory – and the practice – was that democratization of State power would keep authority in check and protect the inalienable rights of our citizens. And it would preclude the rise of a dictatorial governor in the State. (Furthermore, one must also note how long it took our Governor to gain the right to veto legislation, again for the same historical reasons.) Tinkering with the current format would upset the balance among the three branches of government, and ultimately give any Governor too much authority. In my opinion, history bears out that North Carolina has done what was best for its people with the current formulation.

Second, why is appointment of all or most Council of State officials a bad idea? In addition to it being contrary to the direction of our State's Founding Fathers, appointment would mean one thing and one thing alone: an insider – a person wed and fed by the entities regulated by the agency – would be appointed. For example, if our Insurance Commissioner were an appointed position in North Carolina, then I'd bet my lunch from now until the Winter Olympics come to Fuquay-Varina that any future Governor would appoint – read "award" – an insurance industry insider with the post. Now don't get me wrong: Such an appointment is not illegal; it just smacks of cronyism and rewarding special interests who have most likely contributed heavily to the campaign of such hypothetical Governor. The power of special interests would be an overwhelming factor for any Governor as he or she considers whom to appoint to current Council of State positions. Appointment of these offices is a bad idea because it strips away the independence of these officials and almost certainly assures that in fact or in perception these officials will be beholden to some group other than the people at large.

Third, there is the issue of continuity. Think about it: Presently the people of North Carolina elect the Council of State and, if an official is doing a moderately good job, the voters re-elect that official. In the appointment process there will almost necessarily be a change in officials every four to eight years, and a change in the focus of the respective agency, depending upon if a Governor is re-elected or not. The great benefits we have had in continuity of leadership in the Department of Agriculture under the late Jim Graham, or in the Department of Insurance under Jim Long, or in the Secretary of State's office under Elaine Marshall, would never be. Making these offices appointed also means that a Governor could fire them at will, even if that officer is doing a great job and perhaps pointing out waste, fraud or errors in that Governor's administration.

One corollary to the issue of continuity is this: If Council of State offices are appointed instead of elected, and their tenure might be six months to eight years only (if that), then the unelected Department staff becomes all the more powerful. That would appear anathema to a representative democracy where we prefer having officials whom are accountable at the ballot box.

And even if you do have continuity in these offices among one or more Governors, do you think these officials – if appointed – would be free and independent to criticize another Department or the Governor's own administration, even if there is potential wrongdoing? Human nature is that appointed officials in this hypothetical scenario will be less likely to bite the hand that feeds them.

Fourth, would not conversion of these offices from elected posts to purely appointed posts essentially mean that the State is afraid of and not trusting of the people, and their power at the ballot box?

Fifth, some commentators have time and again stated that Tar Heel voters allegedly do not know enough about candidates to vote intelligently for these offices and, accordingly, the people should then have taken away from them the power to choose the holders of these offices. No matter how many voters do or do not turn out at the polls, or how many fail to vote further down the ballot in a given election, without question today's voters have much greater access to information about every candidate and the jurisdiction of the respective offices than ever before. We should not excise - we should not remove - the right to vote for these leaders just because some voters – even many of them – fail to use available resources to research the backgrounds and platforms of the respective candidates. Should we contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy by declaring that voters are dumb when, in fact, a large number are, at worst, either lazy or too busy with their lives and trying to make ends meet instead of studying up on candidates appearing on their ballot? Clearly I posit that the answer is "no." I respectfully contend that every voter should consider it her civic obligation to prepare before voting.

Now let's zero in for the moment on the office of Insurance Commissioner as part of this conversation.

Because every person, every family, every business, and every government is affected by the question of, the presence of, or the lack of insurance, as well as affordability of insurance, the ability to elect the Insurance Commissioner is all the more vital versus mere appointment.

In 2008, and for the foreseeable future, the Insurance Commissioner will conduct hearings that determine the ultimate maximum rate for automobile insurance for North Carolina drivers. The same Commissioner will necessarily be involved with the effort to address homeowners insurance on the coast, both its affordability and the presence of a competitive market. The Commissioner will also have an actual and a bully pulpit role on the question of health insurance. Do we truly want an UNELECTED official who is NOT independent of special interests serving as Insurance Commissioner as these duties are discharged? Is not it in our best interests to have an Insurance Commissioner that is behold to no one but the voters – the people – of North Carolina?

Again examining the question, in North Carolina any effort to appoint the Insurance Commissioner is dangerous, and would have many more negative effects for people and businesses alike than positive ones, most notably the almost certainty of higher insurance rates. Why might an appointed Insurance Commissioner allow rates to increase faster and/or higher? Because in that scenario she or he would not be checked by the voters but will act with carte blanche by responding to the special interests so long as it is within existing law.

So, in returning to the original problem, it would be the proverbial "throwing away the baby with the bathwater" if the proposed remedy to meager participation in runoff elections is removal of elections from the process. In North Carolina we believe in a strong representative democracy and in decentralized authority. To believe otherwise is to distrust the people and I, for one, trust an enlightened electorate every day over backroom appointments at the urging of special interests..

By promoting the abolition of elections for most Council of State offices, have not those persons fallen for what the special interests actually want – that is, hand-picked officials not beholden to the people?

In my opinion, the remedy is for the news media to join with me and countless non-profit organizations whose mission is voter education.

Let's promote both civic participation at the polls and representative democracy, and not consolidation of power in one elected office by abolishing election of Council of State officials. Voter education and voter empowerment would be the right way – the Carolina way, the Jeffersonian way, and the American way – to solve the problem at hand. In this instance, electing our Council of State must remain.

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Stanly County Welcomes Bev Perdue, North Carolina's Next Governor

On Thursday night, July 31st, I had the honor and privilege to join a diverse group of North Carolinians supporting Bev Perdue for Governor of North Carolina as she visited Stanly County.

No fewer than 200 folks - not just Democrats by the way - all convened at Bill Mullinix's pastoral farm off of U.S. Highway 52 between Albemarle and Richfield.

Lt. Governor Perdue wowed the crowd, but that's no surprise. She reminded all of us of her work on advances in education, keeping our military bases, and fighting for progress in our great State during her many years of service in the General Assembly and as Lt. Governor. Everyone agreed that Bev Perdue has the tenacity, the toughness, and the skills to be North Carolina's next great Governor. She can go toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball with anyone she needs to in order to do what is best.

Senator Bill Purcell introduced the Lt. Governor.

Other officials in attendance included:

State Rep. Pryor Gibson
County Commissioner Sherrill Smith
Former U.S. Marshal Becky Wallace
Superior Court Judge Susan Taylor
Chief District Court Judge Tanya Wallace
District Court Judge Kevin Bridges
Former State Senator Aaron Plyler

And, yes, candidates turned out in full force as well. Some of them were:

Wayne Goodwin, NC Insurance Commissioner candidate
Larry Kissell, 8th District, U.S. Congress
Amy Wilson, candidate for District Court judge
Charles Collini, candidate for Superior Court judge
John Daniel, candidate for District Court judge

Many area business leaders co-sponsored the successful fundraiser, along with local officials in government and education.

I fully expected the usual band of yellow-dog Democrats from the central 8th District to attend this Bev Perdue fundraiser. And they did. (They hailed from Stanly, Richmond, Union, and Montgomery counties.) But what is most telling is that there were a good number of Republicans in attendance, some of whom were hosts and helped with the fundraising. Having significant crossover from across the partisan aisle is an essential element for Statewide victory in North Carolina.

Meanwhile, from a highly reliable source I learned that the Perdue campaign raised at least $60,000 from this one event on Thursday night.

I don't know about you, but that's a lot of money for those of us growing up on a farm!

Notwithstanding, that sum shows the extent of this region's commitment to a Perdue administration.

Wayne's World predicts that Perdue will win the 8th Congressional District counties by handsome margins in November, and will be our next Tar Heel Governor.

Richmond County Democratic Party Opens New HQ: Getting Ready to Rumble with the Republicans

Richmond County Democrats have opened up their 2008 campaign headquarters in downtown Rockingham at 200 East Washington Street. I commend the officers for their selection: Not only is the HQ in the middle of town, but it is prominently located adjacent to the stoplight where everyone on U.S. Highway 1 must turn if they choose to continue going south. The building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was once where the long ago Pee Dee Bank did its business.

Many dignitaries and party activists gathered for the ribbon-cutting and subsequent hot dog lunch.

Several weeks after the opening, Kay Hagan - the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate - dropped by to visit with well-wishers and supporters.

Other Democratic candidates and voters are encouraged to drop by during office hours to visit with local activists or pick up materials.

I predict that Richmond County Democrats will be using their HQ quite often in the coming months, and I also predict a joyous celebration on Election Day come this November.

Wayne's World Returns (Again)

Blogging has taken a backseat to my many hats as of late. But now Wayne's World is back!

Since my last posting in late June, I have continued to criss-cross the State in my campaign-mobile, going where ever 2 or 3 folks - voters, of course - are gathered to share the good news about my race for Insurance Commissioner. (There are many more miles to cover, my friends, and I'll try to keep you better posted along the way!)

Other items keeping me busy since late June are my dutiful work as Assistant Commissioner of Insurance for the State of North Carolina ... and, most important of all, being "Dad" to my two kids. Jackson is now three months old. And, bless his heart, he started sleeping the whole night through last weekend. What a joy that was to dear old Mom and Dad. Meanwhile, Madison has been finalizing her summer at Arts Camp, concluding what has been a grand summer for her. And, last but not least, the legislature recently adjourned so Melanie's schedule is now more flexible.

So hang on: Let the blogging resume!