U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, at the podium next to Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Atlanta, announcing that Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Georgians need a commissioner not distracted by legal woes

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Jim Beck should step aside immediately. And if he won’t, Gov. Brian Kemp should wait no longer than the mandatory 14 days to put in motion the process by which Beck can be suspended.

On Wednesday, Beck was arraigned in Atlanta’s U.S. District Court. He faces a 38-count indictment that charges Beck, an ex-insurance lobbyist and longtime leader of the Georgia Christian Coalition, with running an elaborate scheme to defraud the Georgia Underwriting Association. According to the indictment, the Republican paid his credit card bills and taxes — and funded the 2018 campaign that landed him in office with the dirty money.

Beck’s attorney says he plans to fight the charges and stay in his job.

While it’s certainly his right to have his day in court to see if prosecutors can prove the charges, the state’s business must continue. The insurance commissioner has a big job that affects every Georgian and involves millions of dollars. It’s a hard job to do well, as the troubled track record of Beck’s predecessors shows, even when you’re not fighting off numerous and serious criminal charges.

Under state law, the governor can appoint a panel to decide whether Beck should be suspended.

On Wednesday, Gov. Kemp urged Beck to resign immediately. We agree.

If Beck steps aside and is later found innocent, then he can have his job back after the legal process runs its course. But the citizens of Georgia deserve an insurance commissioner who isn’t distracted.

The Editorial Board.

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