ROCKINGHAM — While crisscrossing the state on the campaign trail, Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin made a stop in his home county Monday.
Giving the introduction, Rockingham City Councilman John Hutchinson said Goodwin — the first statewide public official from Richmond County in more than three quarters of a century — regularly receives praise from Democrats and Republicans, which “reflects the very good job he’s done” for North Carolina insurance payers.
Goodwin, a Hamlet native, met with supporters — some of whom were former classmates, teachers and principals — at Pattan’s Downtown Grille and discussed what his job actually entails.
As the head of the N.C. Department of Insurance, Goodwin is responsible for regulating and licensing insurance companies and agents, investigating insurance fraud and regulating bail bondsmen and providing Medicare education, among other duties.
Since Goodwin became commissioner, he said the department’s criminal investigations division has made more than 1,500 arrests for insurance-related crimes, resulting in $72 million in restitution and recoveries for victims.
Another part of his job is serving as the state fire marshal.
“I readily admit, I enjoy being state fire marshal more than insurance commissioner,” he said jokingly.
The former state representative said he “felt obligated and duty-bound” to seek the office after longtime commissioner Jim Long — who Goodwin called a “legend” — announced he would no longer run after more than 20 years at the helm.
Goodwin had served as the assistant commissioner under Long for four years and said no one else at the DOI had ever held elected office.
He added the job needs someone who understands the math and science behind it and said the insurance industry “thrives on stability.”
“If you don’t have stability, then our economy and people’s pocketbooks are impacted,” he said. “This is a serious job that requires a serious candidate…not someone playing politics.”
Goodwin said his department has had successes during his term, “but to get North Carolina where it needs to be, I believe another four years is necessary.”
Stability is one thing that office has had, as Goodwin is only the 10th commissioner since the department was created by the General Assembly in 1899.
Mike Causey, a Guilford County Republican with more than two decades in the insurance industry, is again challenging Goodwin for the commissioner’s chair.
Causey won the Republican primary in March against two other candidates with 41 percent of the vote.
He previously ran for the position in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008 and 2012 and for the 6th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014.
According to his campaign website, Causey “will fight for more competition in North Carolina’s insurance industry which will help drive rates lower…(and) increase opportunities for consumers to enjoy new and better insurance products and special discounts in insurance rates.”
As far as health insurance goes, Goodwin said the state would have at least two other companies to choose from — providing lower premiums and lowering taxes — if the federal government (with the Affordable Care Act) and the state government hadn’t intervened, taking away some of his authority.
Goodwin said he has also fought to keep homeowners’ insurance rates low.
After companies sought to raise rates by 25 percent, he held the first hearing in 22 years and rejected the plan.
“My decision saved homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, adding that the matter is now in court.
Being the commissioner, according to Goodwin, is a balancing act: fighting for the lowest rates and making sure insurance companies can make a profit.
“Most people don’t pay attention to a race like this,” he said. “But they should.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.