July 15, 2008
More elected offices

Clay Robison floats the possibility of another elected office for state government.

For the first time in years, the Texas Department of Insurance will be up for sunset review, thus assuring that proposals for strengthening Texas' weak regulatory system will be heard, rather than quietly buried by the insurance lobby.

The most radical proposal to emerge so far (and one with a lot of public appeal) is to replace the current insurance commissioner, an appointee of the governor, with an elected commissioner.

Initially proposed by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission, the elected commissioner idea is a long shot. But it is picking up some bipartisan support, including that of Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, longtime chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

"In Texas, I think it would work. I kind of view it now as the lesser of evils," Smithee said, predicting an uphill fight against the insurance industry, which routinely showers state officeholders with political contributions.


Eleven states, including California, Louisiana and Oklahoma, have elected commissioners. Hinojosa said people in states with elected commissioners pay, on average, 43 percent less for homeowners insurance and 12 percent less for health coverage.

"I want someone (a commissioner) who is more accountable (to the public)," Hinojosa said.

I've discussed the concept of making certain appojnted offices - Secretary of State, TxDOT Commissioner, and HHSC Commissioner, in particular - elected ones instead. The idea has merit, and would probably lead to some of the benefits that Rep. Smithee and Sen. Hinojosa have in mind, though of course it would still be subject to direct influence from the insurance lobby. The main objection, as I see it, is that this would take away one of the few powers that are explicitly granted to the Governor in the state constitution.That's by no means an insurmountable obstacle, but it is something we should weigh carefully before we act.

On the other hand, the best reason to push for this sort of change is given by Robison later on in the column:

The governor's office says there is no "short list" yet for a potential successor to former Secretary of State Phil Wilson, who recently resigned.

But if Perry remains true to form, two of the leading contenders are likely to be Brian Newby, the governor's chief of staff, and Luis Saenz, a former deputy secretary of state who was director of Perry's political committee during the 2006 election cycle.

Perry has a habit of promoting people close and loyal to him. Wilson was the governor's deputy chief of staff before being named secretary of state.

And Perry recently appointed his former chief of staff, Deirdre Delisi, to chair the Texas Transportation Commission.

Promotions based on loyalty rather than competence and experience are never a good thing (three words: "Heckuva job, Brownie!"). Not every Governor will be as callow as this one, of course, but that doesn't mean we should depend on it. I look forward to a vigorous debate in the Lege next year over this.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 15, 2008 to Show Business for Ugly People

** Promotions based on loyalty rather than competence and experience are never a good thing **

No doubt!

Posted by: Kevin Whited on July 15, 2008 8:17 AM
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