Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens.

Georgia insurance commissioner won’t seek re-election in 2018

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens, who has faced criticism in recent years as auto coverage rates soared, announced Monday that he won’t seek a third term in 2018.

Hudgens served in the state House and Senate from the Athens area, rising to chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, before running in 2010 to replace longtime Commissioner John Oxendine, who ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Besides handling insurance, the commissioner serves as the state fire marshal and regulates the small loan industry.

Hudgens has been criticized as auto insurance rates rose by those who thought he took too much of a hands-off approach. Last year he issued a consumer alert when Allstate filed for an average rate hike of 25 percent, but the commissioner wound up saying there was nothing he could do to stop it because of a state law he supported when he served in the Senate.

Hudgens recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he didn’t know at the time that the law would all but preclude the commissioner from stopping massive rate increases, such as the one implented by Allstate.

Like some past commissioners, he’s also faced criticism that he was too close to the industry he regulated, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from those in insurance and small loan businesses.

“I ran for insurance commissioner because I believed I could be an effective advocate for consumers,” Hudgens said in announcing that he wouldn’t run again. “My office has helped consumers get payments after insurance companies originally denied claims and has aggressively pursued insurance fraud. I focused on those consumer protections while also working to make sure we had a competitive marketplace.”

During his first term, he made waves when he declared he and his office “would do everything in our power to be an obstructionist” over the federal Affordable Care Act. He later walked back those comments and said he “can’t be” an obstructionist and still do his job.

During his 2014 re-election campaign — he coasted to another four-year term — he expressed his distaste for Obamacare at every turn but acknowledged his office had little power to stop the law. Instead, he focused his campaign on consumer protection issues — and pointed to $30 million his office claimed it won from insurers who initially refused to pay claims.

Hudgens’ agency was most recently in the news when the AJC reported that the department overspent its budget and had to lay off staffers and furlough employees.

The commissioner said Monday that he will remain active in politics, and he recently contributed $13,200 to the gubernatorial campaign of Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Deputy Commissioner Jay Florence, a former aide to Georgia Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer, R-Duluth, and fellow a Republican, health care provider Shane Mobley, have already filed fundraising paperwork to run for Hudgens’ job. So has Tomeka Kimbrough, a Democrat. Jim Beck, who has served as an aide in the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner and as president of the Georgia Christian Coalition, is considering the race as well.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.