Okla. Insurance Commissioner Race Focuses On Homeowners' Rate Hikes

By Brianna Bailey, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 15--Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak will face Bill Viner, a newcomer to Oklahoma politics, who works as an auditor for the Oklahoma Tax Commission, in the Republican primary June 24.

Doak has no Democratic opponent, so the outcome of the primary will determine the statewide race.

Viner is a Moore resident who worked for the Oklahoma Insurance Department for about 10 years in the 1990s and served as chief examiner for the department at one time. He also worked for several years as senior examiner for the Nevada Division of Insurance.

Viner said he is running for Insurance Commissioner because his homeowners' insurance premium has skyrocketed over the past several years, a 40 percent increase this past year.

Oklahomans pay some of the highest homeowners' insurance rates in the nation, in part because of the state's propensity for severe weather, but Viner said he believes the kind of rate increases the state has seen over the past several years are excessive.

"In a nutshell, I want to regulate insurance rates in the state," Viner said. "That's what I think is the main job of the insurance commissioner. I think companies can be called upon to justify their rates and their policy provisions, which always seem to favor the companies."

Viner had yet to file a donor disclosure statement with Oklahoma Ethics Commission, but said he is running his campaign with essentially no money.

He has no website, has done a few radio interviews and has some black and white photocopied fliers that he is distributing to voters.

Viner said that he will not take campaign contributions from the insurance industry.

"Doak's contributors are insurance companies, insurance company lobbyists, special interest groups, I want to remain independent," Viner said. "Obviously, I don't have very much money, but I am going to stick with that because I believe an insurance commissioner should remain independent."

By the end of March, John Doak had received more than $399,000 in campaign contributions, and already spent more than $194,000, according to his latest donor disclosure statement. His donors include numerous insurance industry and oil and gas executives, records show.

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Since taking office in January 2011, Doak has worked to improve public education about insurance and has toured all 77 counties in the state.

"I've given 300-plus speeches around the state and I have yet to be in a room... where everyone understands their insurance policy," Doak said. "I want people to understand their homeowners' policies."

After the May 2013 tornado outbreak that caused more than $2 billion in insurance losses, Doak's department went into overdrive to educate policy holders about the insurance claims process.

Doak also set up a temporary command center in Moore to help tornado victims through the claims process.

"Our proactiveness in having consistent meetings and outreach programs has really been working," Doak said.

Doak has also worked to expand the Insurance Department's anti-fraud unit while in office and has also led initiatives to crack down on uninsured drivers in the state.

While he realizes that Oklahomans pay higher insurance rates than many parts of the nation, it's largely because of the state's history of natural disasters, Doak said. If the state were to try to regulate insurance rates, many companies would decide to pull out of the state all together, he said.

"I am working behind the scenes to keep our market viable and competitive, and that's something I am very proud of," Doak said.



(c)2014 The Oklahoman

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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