When you first meet Mike Causey, the Greensboro Republican strikes you as way too nice of a guy to be a player in hard-nosed big-time statewide politics.
He presents quite a contrast to Richard Morgan — his opponent in the July 17th GOP runoff for insurance commissioner — a veteran practitioner of hardball, slash-and-burn politics who many observers say wouldn’t know “nice” if it walked up and slapped him in the face.
(In an unprecedented move, the NCGOP Executive Committee passed a resolution accusing Morgan of “party disloyalty,” kicking him off of the Executive Committee, basically making him persona non grata.
Morgan, while in the state legislature, formed an alliance with now-disgraced former House Speaker Jim Black. He and a handful of collaborators worked with the Democrats to kill conservative legislation and punish conservative “boat-rockers.”)
The job of Insurance Commissioner is one of the more powerful and influential in state government. The commission has its hands in everything from insurance to bonds to fire protection and building inspection.
Causey is retired from the insurance industry — with 30 years of experience in about every aspect of the field. Prior to his work in insurance, he worked in the construction industry. In retirement, Causey is busy running the family farm outside Greensboro and operating a farmer’s market in downtown Greensboro. We caught up with him this week while he was covering for an ill employee at his market.
“I am not in this race to resuscitate my political career, or use it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things,” said Causey. “I know the insurance business inside and out. There are some serious issues with how it is operating in North Carolina. I want to use my experience and knowledge to push through some reforms that help the industry AND its customers in North Carolina.”
Causey says he was the first Republican in his family — which, like many native-born clans in the Carolinas, had a long tradition of supporting the Democrats. He said he was inspired to get active in party politics by then-WRAL commentator Jesse Helms’ decision to run for the U.S. Senate in 1972.
Causey says one of the biggest problems with insurance in the state is a lack of competition:
“We’ve got a relatively small group that I like to call the cartel — which gets together and decides what the rest of us are going to be paying. If this group of providers wants a five percent increase in premiums, they will recommend a fifteen percent increase to the commissioner. The commissioner gets a chance to publicly protest and give the appearance publicly that he is beating them down to only a five percent increase — which is what they really only wanted in the first place. The commissioner wins by getting some good press. The cartel wins by getting their increase. The customers end up on the losing end of it all. ”
Causey says a lot of this problem centers around the operations of The North Carolina Rate Bureau. He says the organization needs to stay in place, but needs to be tweaked:
“I would work with the legislature to throw open the doors to some serious competition. If we had a much larger group of providers at the table, you’d see much lower rates and improved customer service. Right now, you have so many companies that can’t operate in North Carolina, or don’t operate in certain parts of the state. Customers are missing out on opportunities for more services, better coverage, and lower premiums. Let some more folks into the game, and you will likely see some dramatic improvement in the insurance business in North Carolina.”
Causey has another pet peeve with how the insurance commission works:
“Communication over there is a big concern for me. When people call in, they have to go through wave after wave of voice mails. I’m going to have real people answering the phones, ready to help people.”