Name as it appears on the ballot: David Smith
Date of Birth: April 19, 1968
Campaign Web Site: www.electdavidsmith.com
Occupation & Employer: Attorney, Herring Mills & Kratt, PLLC
Years lived in North Carolina: All of my life (nearly 40 years)
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the office of Insurance Commissioner? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?
Health care/health insurance reform. The Department of Insurance is the primary place where health insurance regulation and innovation ought to originate in our state. Weve seen reforms in other states and as your Commissioner, I will lead the effort to bring improvements to North Carolina. We will reduce the number of uninsured in our state by streamlining programs to enroll individuals in Medicaid, expanding S-CHIP to more children and to their family members and creating a multi-state stop loss pool for high claims in small group insurance.
Automobile Rate Modernization. In North Carolina, our rate structure has disadvantaged good drivers while keeping rates low for the 15% of drivers responsible for 85% of the accidents. I will modernize our system, fighting hard to preserve our low automobile insurance rates while making sure that those with the worst records pay their fair share of the cost of insurance.
Insurance Fraud. I will aggressively pursue and go after any company or any individual who preys on our citizens with fake insurance products and empty promises.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
Over the past 20 years, I have been a leader in numerous capacities. In Durham, I have been Chair of the DATA Board, active in the Durham Democratic Party, a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Peoples Alliance, run and been involved in campaigns for progressive candidates from Lorisa Seibel to Diane Catotti, President of Trinity Park Neighborhood Association and a member of the Durham City-County Merger Commission.
I was appointed by Governor Easley to serve on the General Statutes Commission, and appointed by the North Carolina Senate to the School of Science and Mathematics Board of Trustees. I was a member of the Governing Board of Common Cause of North Carolina from 1999 to 2003. I was the youngest person elected as Democratic Party Chairman of a Congressional District Executive Committee and in that role, chaired the effort to appoint Jeanne Lucas to the North Carolina Senate in 1993.
Professionally, I have been active with the North Carolina Bar Association and the American Bar Associations Joint Committee on Employee Benefits. I have worked extensively with the professional associations of insurance agents, in particular the group which is compromised of independent agents who sell and service health insurance products. I will be the first non-agent president of North Carolina Association of Health Underwriters, a recognition of the role I have played in providing assistance to their members and small businesses and individuals they represent in the confusing web of state and federal laws impacting employee benefits and health insurance.
These diverse experiences are my foundation for approaching service as North Carolinas Commissioner of Insurance. Its not just about working with the legislature but also about how well you work with different groups, with different perspectives and how well you can find solutions that will work for everyone and will make real progress.
I have advocated on behalf of those left behind or confused by the laws that were designed to protect them particularly through my work in public policy circles to get substantive legislation passed including small group reform in the 1990s and adoption of the high risk pool for individuals buying health insurance in the last twelve months; in a courtroom or on a telephone explaining to a business owner why they have to provide insurance to someone who is pregnant or why an insurance company must pay for innovative treatments for a woman with breast cancer; and when I was operating my own law firm and had to make tough decisions, I went without health insurance so that my employees and my children would be covered.
We need an Insurance Commissioner who is not looking to use the office as a stepping stone to higher office, but one who is passionately committed to do this job and to do it well.
3. How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?
I am a lifelong progressive, favoring public policy for those most often forgotten by the political process. I have long advocated open forums for solving our problems and have worked continuously on those solutions in the various bodies on which Ive served. I have supported progressive candidates locally and statewide and been relentless in my advocacy work on health insurance and health care reform.
4. The Independents mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
In many ways, the role of the Insurance Commissioner is about helping individuals stand up to insurance companies who make wholesale decisions without understanding the retail implications. I am not afraid to stand up and demand that someone take responsibility for their actions an insurance company that says they will pay a claim will be held accountable to do the same, when Im Commissioner.
Creating real social justice in a system that relies on for-profit business enterprise to insure certain actual or potential losses (health, auto, fire, flood) requires one to understand the decisions made within by those companies, and to stand up for consumers. I will demand fairness for all, prohibit discrimination in all its forms in decisions made by insurance companies and employ a staff and leadership team that is reflective of our states diversity.
5. Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
My position on the death penalty which is discussed below.
I also would favor changes to our laws restricting elective abortion from being a covered benefit.
I would favor legislation that would encourage more small businesses to offer same-sex couples benefits and creating a structure which would simplify the issues that many couples face with insurance, estate, long-term care, end-of-life and adoption issues in North Carolina.
6. Will you accept campaign contributions from donors employed by insurers and their PACs? Why or why not?
I have never accepted PAC contributions and never will. I ran for State House in 1998 and raised $20,000 without a dime of PAC or lobbyist money, outraising three incumbents who all accepted those contributions.
I have not received money from any employee of any insurer but may face that situation. I intentionally conducted the initial phase of my fundraising by a higher standard never accepting any money in excess of $200 and no political action committee contribution. More importantly, by fully disclosing my contributions, regardless of the amount, I will allow voters to make an informed decision.
Our states progress toward public financing is a wonderful first step, but this race highlights its biggest failing permitting candidates to raise over $250,000 in private donations and providing no public money for the primary election. I will continue to advocate campaign finance system improvements by recommending this change for future elections under the program.
7. Whats your view of Blue Cross Blue Shields role as a nonprofit insurance company acting in the public interest? What action would you take to influence their policies?
It is difficult to call Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina a nonprofit insurance company since they are taxed as a for-profit business and operate in a manner similar to a for-profit business.
The history of the Blues dates back to the early part of the 1930s, when they were formed as a funding mechanism for providers (doctors used the Shield and hospitals used the Cross). The real difference between them and most health insurers is the fact that profits generated are not used to pay shareholders or members. Therefore the balance between their premiums and the motivations to pay dividends to shareholders ought to be balanced in favor of the customer. As Commissioner, I will fight hard to make sure that is followed more closely.
First, it is my opinion that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) should not be permitted to convert to a for-profit business. The allure of the conversion money that would come to the state, like the tobacco settlement money, would be seen by future policymakers as just a pool of money to spend on unrelated projects. I do not believe conversion would benefit health insurance consumers in our state because a for-profit Blue Cross would not remain headquartered in North Carolina. In fact, a for-profit company is more likely to be absorbed by the Blue Wellpoint/Anthem giant that has monopoly power in far too many states and has already lost most of the original Blue Cross mission of helping individuals to afford health care in their local community.
Second, I will work to ensure that the public trust is maintained by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and all other health insurance carriers so that health insurance premiums are appropriate and fair, and that appropriate reserves are maintained.
8. Given that this election represents the first turnover in Insurance Commissioner in 24 years, give your opinion of the current commissioners tenure, both kudos and criticisms.
Commissioner Long has done a great job in keeping automobile rates low and advocating for the consumer. It is a difficult job during which he has undoubtedly felt the pull between the interests of consumers, insurance companies, legislators and political influences and performed admirably in the midst of that pressure.
I am most concerned about two aspects of the Commissioners legacy. First, the absence of leadership on health insurance issues in the past fifteen years has resulted in a market without competition and no real innovation leaving us with nearly 1.5 million uninsured North Carolinians, 13th worst among the states. Second, the manner in which he decided to depart from office, and to not give anyone notice of his decision was a huge betrayal of his obligations to the democratic process and the Democratic Party. No elected official should be permitted to coronate a successor without a real opportunity for debate.
9. As member of the Council of State, you would have input on the issue of the death penalty, including the execution protocol, which was taken up by the Council last year. Do you feel qualified to vote on such issues? If so, how would you vote on the execution protocol and other death penalty matters that may come before the Council? And is the Council of State an appropriate body to deliberate these issues?
I do feel that I am as qualified as any other citizen to have an opinion and as an elected member of the Council of State, I would have the responsibility to vote on this, and other important matters to come before the Council of State.
While I am hesitant to commit to any issue before understanding and considering the specifics of the issue, my own moral views on the death penalty would impact my position if this were to come before the council. I oppose the death penalty being continued as a means of punishing people in this state. (Note: I took this public position 10 years ago as a candidate for State House and have not waivered on it ever.)
As to the third question, I do believe that the Council of State is an appropriate forum to debate this and other issues of interest to the state. I would note that the specific issue on the execution protocol is mandated as an issue for the Council of State to consider under state law.