Friday, May 16, 2008

Duane Grimes -- Montana Headlines interview, Part 2 of 3

Read Part 1 of the Montana Headlines interview with State Auditor candidate Duane Grimes here.


Part 2:

MH: You've been running a positive campaign, not criticizing past State Auditors or the current Auditor's office, and that's one of the reasons that Montana Headlines has been particularly supportive of your candidacy. We like positive approaches to politics and government.

But for the benefit of readers, let's talk in general "compare and contrast" terms. For instance, the average educated Montana voter can make some fairly accurate general predictions (regarding basic things like taxes, spending, and government regulations) about how a "mainstream Montana Democrat" would approach, say, being governor, when compared to a "mainstream Montana Republican." That same educated Montana voter probably couldn't do the same, though, when talking about the State Auditor position.

Given what the Auditor's office does and given the current philosophical and policy positions of the Republican and Democratic Parties in Montana, could you -- as a reasonable mainstream Montana Republican – give some generalizations about how a Republican might approach the office of the State Auditor differently from a Democrat?

Duane Grimes: The simple answer to this question is in the general perceptions about the role of government that the political parties take: government solutions (Democrat) vs. private sector solutions (Republican). To a point, this may be valid. For instance, in the huge area of health care reform it is critical that we foster free market solutions rather than big government approaches. Those free market solutions really do work by the way, and help hold down costs. There are many ways the free market is not being allowed to function properly and I look forward to collaboratively addressing them.

But to back up a minute, in the bigger picture…this position is one of a regulator, so really the political affiliation is much less important than the personal philosophy and approach that a particular candidate has to the position. The State Auditor must be tough, fair, and impartial in their duties, working for the betterment of all Montanans, regardless of political affiliation.

The second thing, which also is apolitical and so vitally important, is how the next Auditor will administer the agency. The Office has a staff of great people, but I believe that they need to be recognized, understood, and engaged with the organizational leader to operate efficiently and strategically for the benefit of the consumer. The office currently averages over 700 complaint calls per week, and I intend to take some of those calls personally to ensure I stay engaged with the daily concerns of Montana consumers. A hands-on, knowledgeable approach to administration of the office will be crucial to the effective operation of this regulatory agency.

MH: This is an important point -- the job of State Auditor is to regulate the insurance and investment industries in Montana. Sometimes detractors of the Republican Party think that just because we believe in the power of free markets and individual liberty, that Republicans somehow won't do the jobs they were elected to do if they involve government regulation. This is simply not the case -- most Republicans elected or appointed to positions like these tend to be "strict constructionists," so to speak, faithfully and fairly following the letter and intent of the laws passed by state legislatures.

Duane Grimes: Agreed. Belief in a free market economy is not a belief in no regulations and no laws. We have an established legal framework; businesses that do not abide by these laws should be shut down. Let me be clear: Businesses that attempt to cheat or defraud Montanans will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This is an area where I believe the current Auditor has done a commendable job.

MH: You have been rightly critical of the Bush administration for taking steps to federalize some aspects of insurance regulation. You stated: "To have all the states regulated by a central federal bureaucracy is bad for Montana because all our oversight would be west and east-coast driven. Montana consumers would be caught in the middle, ending up losing the most."

Montana Headlines is all for state and local control whenever possible, so this news was disturbing. For those who aren't familiar with this recent move by the federal government to usurp what has traditionally been the prerogative of individual states, could you give some examples of how this change in federal regulation (which it sounds like is being done solely by the Executive Branch, and not even by Congress) will affect Montanans?

Duane Grimes: Fortunately, this is currently simply a proposal from the U.S. Treasury Department and many of its components need approval of Congress before being implemented. This would include the establishment of an Office of Insurance Oversight within the Department of the Treasury. While the proposal has many strong backers, there are also many, like me, against such federal takeover of an industry that, I believe, works best when regulated at a state level.

MH: To follow up on that, is there anything that Montana can do -- and specifically the office of the State Auditor -- either to reverse this decision or to mitigate its effects on our state?

Duane Grimes: There are things Montana’s State Auditor can and should do to ‘mitigate its effects on our state.’
Our current State Auditor has spoken out against this proposal and I will uphold that stance should I be elected; additionally, the Auditor has a great deal to do with how federal policy changes are received by the State Legislature as well as has input into the national model legislation.

It is extremely important for the Auditor to understand the technical issues and driving forces behind proposals such as this, as well as be very engaged in the process in order to help direct the policy in the direction that best impacts all Montanans. Working collaboratively with, instead of against, good companies that want to do business here is the best way to ensure that consumers have good insurance options available to them, and Montanans should be able to meet face-to-fact with the person who is their ‘first line of defense’ rather than having to call a 1-800 number in Washington, D.C.

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