Gov. Nikki Haley appointed a 41-year industry veteran to head the states insurance department on Tuesday, who earned respect of business leaders but some doubts from consumer advocates.
Ray Farmer, southeast vice president for the American Insurance Association trade group, succeeds David Black, who resigned abruptly nearly 11 months ago. Gwen Fuller-McGriff was interim director.
Farmer, 66, spent nine years with the Georgia insurance department before heading industry lobbying over eight states since 1979. The Georgia native will earn $120,000 in his new post after retiring from the insurance association. He will need to be confirmed by the state Senate.
Haley said several former legislators and bureaucrats sought the job, but she wanted a business veteran. The governor said she approached about a half-dozen people in the insurance industry who said they were not interested because the state pay was lower than the private sector.
Haley said Farmer understands the position is about jobs and customer service. She also touted Farmers knowledge of national insurance issues.
I have learned that insurance companies serve consumers best when government is least, Farmer said.
Haley received $5,500 in two contributions from the American Insurance Association for her 2010 and 2014 campaigns, according to State Ethics Commission records.
The contributions did not play a role in hiring Farmer, said Rob Godfrey, the governors spokesman.
The insurance industry employs more than 38,000 workers in South Carolina. The more competitors that have a presence in our state brings more jobs for our citizens, Farmer said.
Otis Rawl, chief executive of S.C. Chamber of Commerce, said Farmer aided state business leaders through workers compensation reform. Rawl said he believes Farmer will help businesses control costs.
I expect him to keep analyzing issues from both sides, make judgments based on facts and look at you right in the face and tell you what he thinks, Rawl said.
But Bob Hunter, insurance director for the Consumer Federation of America, said hiring an insurance insider will not help most residents, calling their situation hopeless. He said South Carolina used to be one of the nations most consumer-friendly insurance states.
Giving away the store to industry does not help, Hunter said. South Carolina has become adverse to the consumer. This is the exclamation point.
Farmer said he would hold the states standards on rate changes so that they are not excessive, inadequate or unfairly discriminatory.