Georgia insurance commissioner candidates debate qualifications

Candidates made their case to be Georgia insurance commissioner at a debate Monday.

Incumbent Republican John King said his efforts to combat fraud and restore public trust in an office rocked by scandal make him the best choice to regulate the insurance industry.

“We’ve gotten this office back on its tracks, focusing on protecting Georgia consumers,” King said at Monday’s debate.

Democratic challenger Janice Laws Robinson, an insurance agent, said her industry experience make her the most qualified candidate to tackle rising insurance rates and other challenges.

“We deserve an insurance commissioner that is licensed, experienced and knows how to navigate the insurance industry,” Robinson said.

The commissioner regulates rates for auto, health, homeowners, life and other types of insurance and investigates consumer complaints. The commissioner also serves as the state fire marshal, overseeing safety and prevention programs and building inspections.

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed King commissioner in 2019 after then-Commissioner Jim Beck was charged with stealing more than $2 million from a former employer. Beck was later convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison.

King was the longtime police chief in Doraville. Now he’s seeking a full term as insurance commissioner. He cited his efforts to combat insurance fraud. Under King, the commissioner’s office has recovered more than $40 million from insurance companies.

“We’ve had lots of insurance commissioners with lots of licenses,” he said. “The folks who have always lost are the Georgia consumers.”

If elected, King said he would continue to hold companies accountable while attracting more companies to Georgia. He said more insurance companies will mean greater competition, which will hold down rates.

Robinson is a Coweta County resident and a licensed insurance broker who is making her second run for commissioner (she lost to Beck in 2018). She said her industry experience makes her more qualified than King.

“We deserve an insurance commissioner who is licensed, experienced and knows how to regulate this industry,” she said.

Laws also said she would support expanding Medicaid and work with whichever party controls the General Assembly to control rates and hold insurance companies accountable.

Both candidates said they support changing Georgia law to allow the commissioner to approve auto insurance rates before they take effect — a power previous commissioners enjoyed until lawmakers took it away in 2008. But even without the power, Robinson said she would challenge “each and every rate increase that comes across my desk.”

King said the commissioner must work within the confines of the law until it’s changed. But he cited his effort to highlight a 25% auto insurance rate increase by Allstate Property & Casualty Company recently. King’s office issued a consumer alert in response.

ExploreLearn more about the Georgia Insurance Commissioner candidates in our Voter Guide