Wednesday, May 27, 2009

John Oxendine: The Paid Insurance Industry Hitman Running for Governor

John Oxendine, replete with a creepy insurance industry donation-induced smile.

We haven't done a whole lot on the gubernatorial race here at UGALiberal. Part of the reason for that is how far away it is -- though campaigns have started, we aren't going to even be voting in the primaries for quite some time.

We have carried updates from General Poythress, as well as some news items about DuBose Porter. But for the most part, we've held off on critical commentary. We don't plan to give an endorsement until the races get much closer, and there's a lot of important national and local news stories to cover instead.

But I think it's time that a lot of us on the progressive side of things start paying some attention to who exactly a lot of these candidates are. Many of them come from obscure offices that don't receive much press coverage. Some people don't know anything about former labor commissioners like David Poythress or the insurance commissioner John Oxendine.

I'm one of those folks who falls in the latter category. I had no idea who John Oxendine was before this race, mostly because I didn't spend nearly as much time researching local politics as I should. The closest connection that I have to John is that he writes on my rich Republican friend's facebook page every now and then (usually short, meaningless quips like "Right on!").

Yet as I started really looking into this man and his history, I began to realize that he's probably the most dangerous man with a serious chance at winning running in this race.

I say that because, for all intents and purposes, Oxendine is a paid hitman for the insurance industry. If he gets into power, it'll be primarily with their help -- and consumers who have been ripped off, abused, and kicked around by the industry will probably be in for a world of hurt.

That's actually something I like a lot about David Poythress (again, no endorsements, just a comment). He's someone who has spent his life in public service. He's not a guy who floats around waiting for a big Wall Street gig so he can lay off his employees and work 6 months out of the year and spend the rest of his time with Filipino prostitutes on some offshore tax haven (I think I just described the typical Republican/New Democrat work scheme for the past 20 years!). He served his country in the military, and he served his country as a labor commissioner. He's someone who has a passion for public service, not just private profit (not that there's anything wrong with wanting to be successful -- but there's a lot wrong when the only reason you get into public service is to enrich yourself).

Oxendine is no Poythress.

As always, let's look at the money first.

From the AJC:

Of the $6.6 million his campaigns collected from 1998 to 2008, at least $2.6 million came from employees and owners of insurance and small-loan businesses, according to a review of state reports by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

That’s at least 40 percent of what Oxendine, a leading candidate for governor in 2010, has raised. And it’s a conservative figure.

It does not include law firms working in the industries he regulates who have been major contributors. And during much of the past decade, Oxendine’s campaign did not disclose the occupations and the employers of many donors, making that information hard to track.

And here's Oxendine's brilliant response from the same article:

“What we’ve always done is strictly comply with the law and we’ve made every attempt to do so,” Oxendine said.

Translation: "I'm dodging the issue, and you can suck it, AJC."

Because the issue here isn't that the donations are illegal (although he recently ran into that problem, too, claiming he had no idea that big insurance companies donated more than ten times the legal limit to him), the issue is that the largest chunk of his donor base is the very people he's in charge of regulating.

If that doesn't want to make you run away from this guy at bullet-train speed, you either work for an insurance company or you have no idea how politics works.

But there is that camp of people who say that the investment theory of politics is all wrong, and the campaign finance isn't that big a deal. Well, that isn't exactly true. Check this out:

Oxendine quickly developed a reputation for being an aggressive fund-raiser, piling up record amounts in his re-election campaign accounts by collecting donations from insurance agents and executives, small-loan company owners, health care officials and law firms...

Public criticism of Oxendine within the industry is scarce. When asked about Oxendine, longtime state Sen. George Hooks (D-Americus) said he could not say much because he runs an insurance agency and the commissioner’s office licenses him to do business. Several insurance agents and doctors who contacted the AJC last week declined to comment on the record.

So we have a double chilling effect at work here. These big insurance outfits donate heavily to Oxendine, who promises not to regulate them too much. In return, they don't criticize him too much. Corporatism at its finest.

And from the same article, we have some of the favors Oxendine has been doling out to his cash-and-carry friends:

Last year lawmakers approved legislation allowing companies to raise auto rates without Oxendine’s prior approval. A similar policy in the 1980s led to increased auto premiums. Oxendine decried the law, saying it would lead to big increases for drivers.

But lawmakers who supported the change argued Oxendine was worried the move would eliminate a major reason for auto insurance companies to give to his campaigns. Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon), whose bill was amended to include the "no-prior approval provisions," said at the time that Oxendine "is ultimately concerned about his influence and his power and the power he wields over the insurance companies of this state."

Wall, the consumer advocate, said lawmakers were concerned Oxendine had been linking rate approvals with financial support.

"Members of his own party were determined to put a stop to it," she said. "They wanted to put an end to the shake-down tactics they perceived were happening."

So not only do we have Oxendine deep in the pockets of the insurance industry, but we have him apparently being too pro-deregulation for the Georgia Republican Party. Read that over a few times.

This sort of soak-the-rich philosophy is in ever corner of Oxendine's agenda. Take his "Contract With Georgia," with his twelve points. I put what each one really means in bold:

Make state government smaller and more accountable by implementing zero-base budgeting.
Deregulate the industries that have bankrolled me for four terms further, screwing over consumers.

Create a modern 21st century tax code for Georgians which abolishes the state income tax.
Help make the industries that have bankrolled me for four terms make even larger profits and shift the tax burden to working people, screwing them over.

Implement a comprehensive statewide transportation system.
Not actually possible given the first two, but it sounds good.

Actively assert that the tenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution belongs to the American people and not Washington politicians.
Doesn't mean anything substantive at all, but it sounds good to idiots.

Break ground on new water reservoirs to ensure an adequate water supply for our future.
Also will be made even more difficult given first two planks of my platform.

Invest in all schoolchildren by allowing tax dollars to follow the child in the form of an education voucher. An equal access voucher system supports the rights of parents to decide how to best educate their children.
Let really rich people have their schools so we can keep the poor folk out.

Create an educational model which eliminates process micromanagement at the state level; maintaining local control but ensuring accountability.
I had a couple of law firms throw this together. When you have this much meaningless rhetoric in one sentence, you know a lawyer was involved.

Aggressively support legislation which protects and preserves human life from conception to death.
Given that I'm an insurance company hitman, I don't give a damn about kids after they're born, but by golly, they're gonna get born.

Fight for less government restrictions on where law abiding and permitted citizens can carry a firearm.
I need this one in there to get poor folks to vote for me, because I'm not going to help them out economically at all but they've convinced themselves that owning a gun is more important than that. (shrugs)

Protect taxpayers by defending the integrity of Georgia's borders through upholding and enforcing immigration laws.
This is another one that I have in there to get poor folks to vote for me against their own economic interests. They really hate brown people. I like 'em personally. They do good underpaid gardening.

Implement focused domestic and international economic development which targets our efforts on the recruitment of industries for which Georgia is a talent and resource fit.
See "Seventh"

Work with the Governors of other states to strongly encourage Congress to adopt The Fair Tax.

Could you tell I don't like this guy?