As insurance premiums climb so high that many people no longer can afford basic coverage, insurance regulation has become a hot issue in the 1990 election. For insurance commissioner and treasurer, voters have a choice of two candidates with very different ideas about the job.
In his television ads, direct mail appeals and news conferences, Democratic challenger George Stuart pledges to lower insurance premiums.
Floridians "are seeing, every day, every week, every month, either rates going out of sight or deductibles going way up," he said. He proposes to decrease rates by having public hearings, creating an independent consumer advocate and forbidding insurers from recovering some business costs through premiums. He has strongly criticized incumbent Tom Gallagher's performance, claiming Gallagher favors the insurance industry over consumers.
Gallagher says he wishes he could promise lower rates. "Of course, I want to be a hero," but such a promise would mislead voters, he said.
Unless the medical costs and automobile repair costs that drive up insurance rates are addressed, lowering rates will only endanger the solvency of insurance companies, possibly rendering cheaper policies useless, Gallagher says.
He cites that although California voters approved a 20 percent rollback in rates, that state's Supreme Court ruled that companies must receive a fair return, so the rollback hasn't been enforced.
Gallagher says he has focused on clamping down on insurance fraud and improving consumer service. For example, the state insurance hot line has been expanded, he says, so consumers can check up on an insurance company before signing a policy.
Among his accomplishments, he cites new investment strategies he has started with the treasury that have yielded an extra $25-million a year for the state's coffers.
And along with Education Commissioner Betty Castor, Gallagher backed a new program to give free physical exams to schoolchildren.
Money management has been an issue in this race. Stuart has admitted personal financial troubles, such as multiple mortgages, late payment of bills and bounced checks. Stuart has refused to reveal how he is earning his living now, saying he is a management consultant but refusing to disclose who his clients are.
He also has been criticized for sponsoring legislation permitting a new road to be financed with bonds and later procuring the bond business for the investment firm for which he worked.
Stuart says his difficulties are similar to those of many Floridians and make him more sensitive to the average consumers' problems than Gallagher, who is single and well-off.
_ CHARLOTTE SUTTON
As Florida's major banker, the treasurer handles billions of dollars each year investing the state's money. As insurance commissioner, the official regulates rates, licenses agents and adjusters, investigates fraud and operates a consumer hot line. The treasurer, a member of the Cabinet, also is state fire marshal, investigating arson and enforcing fire-prevention laws. The job will pay $94,040 a year as of January.
GEORGE STUART, 44, has represented Orlando in the state Senate since 1978. He also has served on Orlando's City Council and its Aviation Authority. In the Senate, he is chairman of the Higher Education Committee and a member of the Education Committee and the appropriations subcommittee that handles the state's education budgets. Stuart was born in Orlando and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Florida and a master's degree from Harvard University. He worked for his family's office supply business and in 1986 took a job as an investment banker with Drexel Burnham Lambert. He is a management consultant. He is married and has four children. ASSETS: Homes in Orlando and Tallahassee, equity in a bank, stock, automobiles. LIABILITIES: Mortgages, loans. INCOME: Legislative salary, consulting business.
TOM GALLAGHER, 46, has been treasurer and insurance commissioner since 1988, when he was elected to fill the term of Bill Gunter, who resigned. Born in Delaware, Gallagher moved to Florida in 1961 and graduated from the University of Miami in 1965 with a degree in business administration. Gallagher served in the Army from 1965 to 1967. He represented a Dade County district in the state House of Representatives from 1974 to 1986, when he lost the Republication nomination for governor. He was appointed secretary of the Department of Professional Regulation (DPR) in September 1987 and resigned in 1988 to run for treasurer. Until he took over DPR, Gallagher was active in the private mortgage insurance business and was president of Gallagher Financial Systems. He is divorced and has no children. ASSETS: Homes and rental properties in Miami and Tallahassee, real estate, shares in bank, boat, cash. LIABILITIES: Mortgages, loans. INCOME: Treasurer and insurance commissioner's salary.