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Nelson for insurance post

The nearly forgotten race for insurance commissioner has provided another reason why this job shouldn't be elected. Both candidates have relied on contributions from the very industry they hope to regulate, prompting charges of strong-arming by one candidate against the other. The few issues that have surfaced are complex and often arcane. Most voters have not paid a bit of attention, reducing this election to the level of a popularity contest.

Fortunately, the candidate with the most name recognition also is the one with the most thoughtful, consumer-oriented platform. Democrat Bill Nelson's 10-point plan for change makes what could have been a difficult choice an easy one.

Unlike his opponent, Republican Tim Ireland, Nelson has tried to approach this job from the consumer's standpoint. A lawyer and former member of Congress who lost a bid for governor four years ago, Nelson offers the best hope of rebuilding the state's battered insurance industry while protecting average Floridians.

Nelson and Ireland both say they will crack down on insurance fraud, but only Nelson offers a genuine solution _ he would hire more investigators. He also would use the office to highlight egregious examples of fraud and wants to target companies that prey on the elderly with unnecessary annuities. Ireland, an insurance agent, promises to work more closely with prosecutors and insurance companies.

Both also favor a national catastrophic insurance fund to ease the burden on the state insurance pool created as a stopgap measure in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. But Nelson also wants to be sure insurance companies are meeting their obligations.

Nelson proposes to rate local code enforcement agencies in the manner that fire departments are rated. Insurance premiums could be based on the ratings, which would produce more equitable results.

To ensure that companies are solvent, Nelson would examine their investment portfolios as well as their potential exposure to losses. Investing assets in questionable ventures poses as significant a threat to solvency as insuring risky properties.

In this year of voter cynicism, Ireland has avoided a specific platform in favor of boilerplate conservative rhetoric. He also has accused Nelson of threatening retaliation against insurance companies that contribute money to both campaigns.

Nelson has denied that charge, but his accepting contributions from insurance companies is hard to stomach, even if Ireland is doing the same. Still, if Nelson manages to implement half his agenda, consumers will be far better off than accepting the thin gruel that Ireland has passed off as a platform.