House Democratic Leader Jim Garner on Thursday announced his bid for state insurance commissioner and took direct aim at Republican hopeful state Sen. Sandy Praeger of Lawrence.
Garner, a 12-year legislator from Coffeyville, criticized Praeger's acceptance of campaign contributions from the insurance industry, saying those funds will taint her decisions if she is the next commissioner.
"The insurance companies have their candidate. Today, I announce that Kansas consumers have theirs," Garner said.
Praeger, who has served in the Legislature since 1991 and is chairwoman of the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, said her contributions from the insurance industry would not affect her independence.
"I've demonstrated over and over again my ability to be independent," Praeger said.
Praeger pointed to her efforts to increase mental-health insurance coverage in the 2001 legislative session.
"They (insurance lobbyists) fought it down to the last hour of the session, so I don't think the industry thought it was a compromise. They felt like they had lost," she said.
But Garner said Praeger should have pushed harder for full parity between mental-health and physical-health benefits.
Garner criticized Praeger for seeking insurance industry funds at a reception this weekend in Philadelphia. The reception is being staged during a National Association of Insurance Commissioners conference.
Praeger invited insurers to make contributions of $250. She said it would be unfair to prohibit a certain group from contributing to politicians.
Praeger's list of contributors includes a who's who list of insurance lobbyists, companies and political-action committees.
The current commissioner, Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, does not take contributions from the insurance industry. She has held the office since 1995 and is now running for governor.
Garner said he would follow Sebelius' lead by not accepting campaign funds from industry insiders.
No other Democrat has filed to run for insurance commissioner. Others who have filed on the GOP side are Bryan Riley, an insurance agent from Wichita, and David J. Powell, an insurance agent from El Dorado.