RALEIGH — Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin wants four more years to hold down homeowners’ premiums while managing risk to make North Carolina an inexpensive place to live and drive.
The Hamlet native and former state House member will seek a third term as head of the N.C. Department of Insurance and state fire marshal in 2016. Goodwin, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Republican Heather Grant, a family nurse practitioner in Yadkinville.
“I want to continue fighting for North Carolina,” Goodwin said by phone from his Raleigh office this week. “Consumers need a fighter to represent them. We need someone who has a proven record.”
Goodwin made headlines last December when he rejected an average 25 percent hike in homeowners’ insurance rates proposed by the N.C. Rate Bureau. The panel representing 100 insurers has asked the state Court of Appeals to review his ruling after a quasi-judicial hearing.
“I ordered the first full hearing on homeowners’ insurance in over 22 years,” Goodwin said. “I believe it was vital for many reasons, transparency among them, for the public and all stakeholders.”
The insurance regulator also lobbied against proposals to cut driver education funding in the state’s 2015-16 budget, predicting increases in crashes and auto insurance rates if schools cut drivers’ ed programs. Driver education is fully funded in the spending plan Gov. Pat McCrory signed on Sept. 18.
“For decades and decades, we have relied upon our state through our local school systems to provide public driver education,” Goodwin said. “I shudder to think what our roads would be like if drivers’ ed were eliminated.”
With premiums 41 percent under the national average, North Carolina currently has the nation’s cheapest auto insurance rates, and Goodwin said he wants to keep them that way. He opposed a failed General Assembly proposal to charge sales tax on car insurance.
“It would have been the largest increase in car insurance in 30 years,” he said, “and the people who drive the least would have been paying more in comparison to other drivers who do 50,000 miles a year.”
Goodwin acknowledged that proportional rate increases are sometimes necessary to allow insurers to adequately manage their risk pools, but he said he seeks to strike that balance with consumers in mind.
“My job is to protect the public and ensure a solid insurance market,” he said. “We do not want price-gouging and we do not want excessive rates.”
Consent-to-rate letters – which allow insurers to charge more than the state maximum insurance rates – have landed on Goodwin’s regulatory radar. He said the tool is being “over-utilized” in some instances.
“It is a lawful procedure, it’s supposed to be the exception to the rule,” Goodwin said. “By law, they cannot charge you more than the capped rate that I set unless the property owner gives permission.”
The commissioner does more than set insurance rates. His department also employs sworn law enforcement officers who investigate insurance and bail bonding fraud. Since Goodwin took office in 2009, he said investigators have made more than 1,500 arrests leading to more than $61 million in recoveries and restitution.
About 10 cents of every dollar in insurance premiums pays for fraudulent claims, the N.C. Department of Insurance says.
As state fire marshal, Goodwin distributes about $10 million in grant funding to volunteer fire and rescue departments throughout North Carolina each year.
The insurance commissioner serves on the Council of State, a cabinet of nine department heads who advise Gov. Pat McCrory. Members are independently elected to four-year terms.
After four two-year terms in the state House, Goodwin narrowly lost the 2004 race for state labor commissioner to Republican Cherie Berry. He served as assistant insurance commissioner under Jim Long and won the top job in a statewide election when Long retired in 2008.
Goodwin’s wife, Melanie Wade Goodwin, won the House District 66 seat he vacated in 2004 and served three terms in the General Assembly. State Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, succeeded Goodwin in 2011.
Richmond Senior High School’s class of 1985 valedictorian, Wayne Goodwin says he’s proud to be the first Richmond Raider to hold statewide office. Before launching his political career, Goodwin was a local radio announcer, private-practice attorney and Richmond Community College instructor.
Goodwin said he’s amassed broad bipartisan support as the state’s insurance commissioner.
“I remain committed to protecting the people of North Carolina through fair and reasonable insurance regulation while also promoting a vibrant and competitive business community,” Goodwin said. “My experience as insurance commissioner has shown me even more how much insurance issues affect people. I want to continue standing up for all North Carolinians.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @corey_friedman.