Jim Donelon

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James Joseph "Jim" Donelon, III​

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner​
In office
February 15, 2006​ – ​
Preceded by J. Robert Wooley​

Louisiana State Representative for Jefferson Parish​
In office
1982​ – 2001
Preceded by Charles Grisbaum, Jr.​
Succeeded by Tom Capella​

Member of the Jefferson Parish Council
In office
1976–1980

Born December 14, 1944 ​
New Orleans, Louisiana
Political party Democrat​-turned-Republican (1980)
Spouse(s) Merilynn Boudreaux "Mopsy" Donelson
Children Four daughters

Eight grandchildren

Alma mater Jesuit High School

University of New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans Law School​

Occupation Attorney

Judge Advocate for the Louisiana Army National Guard​

Religion Roman Catholic

James Joseph Donelon, III, known as Jim Donelon (born December 14, 1944), is the Republican insurance commissioner in Louisiana, a statewide post which he assumed on February 15, 2006.

On September 30, 2006, Donelon was elected to complete a 15-month unexpired term as insurance commissioner, created by the resignation of Democrat, J. Robert Wooley, who left the insurance position to become a lobbyist for the high-powered law firm, Adams and Reese in Baton Rouge. In 2001, Wooley appointed Donelon as his first deputy; under the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, Donelon automatically became temporary commissioner upon Wooley's departure.[1]

Wooley said that he chose Donelon for chief deputy because of Donelon's impeccable reputation and his extensive knowledge of insurance:

Jim was the only guy I knew who could help me restore the credibility and integrity of an office embarrassed because the three previous insurance commissioners had gone to jail ... He is a consumer advocate who does the right thing for the right reasons, and he knows insurance inside and out. I believe he is the most qualified commissioner of insurance ever to assume the position.

Thereafter, Donelon won a full-term as commissioner in the nonpartisan blanket primary held on October 20, 2007, when Republican Bobby Jindal was elected governor to succeeded former opponent, Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat from Lafayette. Two other Republican candidates garnered the remaining 13 percent of the ballots cast in 2007.[2]

Donelon serves on the executive committee of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and was chosen as chairman of that body in 2013. He also chairs the NAIC Surplus Lines Task Force.[3] He also sits on the board of directors of the New Orleans Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Blood Center for Southeast Louisiana. The Alliance for Good Government honored Donelon as both "Outstanding Jefferson Parish Official" and "Legislator of Distinction".

Background

A New Orleans native, Donelon was the namesake son of James Donelon, II (1911-1996), who is interred there at Greenwood Cemetery.[4] Donelon graduated from the Roman Catholic Jesuit High School, the University of New Orleans, and the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, also in New Orleans. In 1986, Donelon was the first recipient of the Homer L. Hitt "Distinguished Alumnus of the Year" award from the University of New Orleans, named for the first executive of the university[3]

Donelon retired after thirty-three years of service as State Judge Advocate for the Louisiana Army National Guard. He held the rank of colonel and received the Legion of Merit.[3][5]

A Roman Catholic, Donelon is married to the former Merilynn "Mopsy" Boudreaux. They reside in Jefferson Parish and are the parents of four daughters and have eight grandchildren.[3]

Winning and losing

Donelon's political career has been voluminous and topsy turvy. In 1975, as a Democrat, he ran successfully for the chairmanship of the Jefferson Parish Council (akin to county commissions in other states). He was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1982, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995, and 1999. He resigned midway through his fifth full term to join Wooley's staff.

In 1979, Donelon, still a Democrat, passed up a reelection bid to the Jefferson Parish Council to make an unsuccessful race for lieutenant governor against the Democrat Bobby Freeman of Plaquemine in Iberville Parish. Donelon was considered the "conservative" in that race to the "liberal" Freeman. Most of the supporters of Republican David C. Treen, the narrow winner of the gubernatorial election that year, are believed to have backed Donelon, and most of the backers of Treen's general election opponent, Democrat Louis Lambert, a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission, went with Freeman.[6]

There was also a Republican in the race, Russel C. "Russ" Kiger, II (1914-1995), then a field representative of the National Cash Register Company based in Baton Rouge. Kiger said that his views parallelled those of Treen and claimed that his non-political technical background would have brought new insight into state government.[7] Yet, Kiger polled only 46,847 votes in the primary, fewer than half of the registered Republicans then on the Louisiana voter rolls, and was hence eliminated from the Donelon-Freeman general election. Jesse Monroe Knowles, a state senator and decorated World War II veteran from Lake Charles, was yet another candidate in the lieutenant governor's contest. Like Donelon, Knowles also switched to Republican affiliation.[8]

Congressional campaign, 1980

Donelon became a Republican on February 20, 1980, when he announced his candidacy to succeed Treen as the U.S. Representative from Louisiana's 3rd congressional district in a special election. Treen urged Republican to coalesce behind Donelon even though there were other longer-tenured Republicans who were interested in making the race. Donelon attracted three Democratic opponents in the special election. The strongest was state Representative Wilbert Joseph "Bill" Tauzin, II, then of Thibodaux in Lafourche Parish, who was the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Also in the race was Democratic state Senator Anthony Guarisco, Jr., of Morgan City in St. Mary Parish, considered a "fiscal conservative" but a "social liberal", who was a strong proponent of the never ratified Equal Rights Amendment. Robert "Bob" Namer (born January 1, 1947), who criticized the other three candidates for excessive campaign spending, ran as a Democrat but later switched to the GOP. He is the executive director of National Business Consultants of New Orleans.[9] [10]

Tauzin filed with the Federal Election Commission a complaint which charged that Donelon's campaign donations were tainted. He cited Donelon's series of letters of credit with no interest required through the Jefferson Bank and Trust Company. Such loans violated federal election law, Tauzin noted. Donelon in turn claimed that the first Mrs. Tauzin obtained a $60,000 loan for her husband's campaign and criticized Tauzin for making "a friviolous charge . . . in the waning days of the campaign."[11]

Former Governor Edwin Edwards had initially told Donelon, who had been an Edwards aide prior to 1975, that Edwards would not become involved in the campaign. When Treen began to campaign for Donelon, Edwards endorsed Tauzin, a former floor leader for Edwards.[12] Donelon entered the first round of balloting as a slight favorite in that he had won some 57 percent of the vote in the parishes which then comprised the Third District in the lieutenant governor's race against Bobby Freeman just seven months earlier.[13] Guarisco, who was endorsed by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which had supported Treen for governor in 1979, said that he did not want the support of either Edwards or Treen because he was "independent of all that."[14] Tauzin was also endorsed by Lieutenant Governor Freeman, United States Senator Russell Long, and Congressman John Breaux, whom Donelon would oppose eighteen years later when Breaux won his third term in the United States Senate.

Donelon led in the first balloting for the congressional seat with 37,191 votes (45.1 percent), but he had peaked and could not sufficiently broaden his appeal into the special election runoff. Tauzin followed with 35,384 ballots (42.9 percent); Guarisco had 8,827 (10.7 percent), and Namer 1,067 (1.3 percent). Donelon won his own Jefferson Parish with 67.4 percent and eked out a bare 50.5 percent in often Republican-leaning Iberia Parish at the western end of the district. In the other French parishes, Donelon fared poorly, taking just 14.9 percent in Tauzin's home base of Lafourche, 33.5 percent in Terrebonne Parish (Houma), 27.3 percent in St. Mary Parish, 30.2 percent in the two St. Martin Parish precincts in the district, and 38.7 percent in St. Charles Parish. Some 60 percent of Donelon's vote came from his own Jefferson Parish.[15]

The Republican National Committee joined the National Republican Congressional Committee to raise money nationwide for Donelon. RNC Chairman Bill Brock, former U.S. Senator from Tennessee, and congressional chairman Guy Vander Jagt of Michigan, said that funds were need to purchase media and newspaper advertising to reach undecided voters and to conduct a massive "get-out-the-vote" drive. Brock and Vander Jagt said that the Louisiana special election was "[a]n opportunity to hold this congressional seat. Donelon is an outstanding Republican and former Jefferson Parish president. His Democratic opponent [future Republican Tauzin] is pro-big labor and a big spender. Democrats and labor bosses will go all out with massive campaign blitz to win control of this district. Republican leaders in Louisiana join us in urgently requesting your immediate action to stop them ..."[16]

The Republican effort to elect Donelon to hold the Treen seat fell short. Tauzin prevailed with 62,108 votes (53.1 percent) to Donelon's 54,815 ballots (46.9 percent). Donelon's 2/3 majority in Jefferson Parish was insufficient to offset huge Tauzin majorities in Lafourche, St. Charles, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Terrebonne parishes. In Iberia Parish, the two split the vote, with Tauzin securing 50.1 percent. The turnout in the May 17 special election runoff was 116,923, compared to 82,462 in the April 19 first round of balloting.[17] The greater participation occurred despite flooding that inundated much of south Louisiana the previous day.[18]

After his loss, Donelon announced that he would not challenge Tauzin for a full term later in the year. Tauzin became unbeatable in the district. Even when he switched parties, he was then untouchable by a Democratic opponent.

Election to legislature, 1982

In a special election in 1982, Donelon won the seat vacated by the resignation of Representative Charles Grisbaum, Jr., a Democrat-turned-Republican.[19] Grisbaum, who became a judge on the new Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna in Jefferson Parish, also ran for Congress as a Democrat in 1974 against David Treen. Grisbaum became a friend of Treen's during that campaign, and, in 1977, he switched parties while continuing his legislative service from Jefferson Parish. Grisbaum by 1980 had become one of Treen's point men in the legislature.

Donelon, who followed in Grisbaum's path, also has ties to Treen. It had been then newly inaugurated Governor Treen in 1980, who proposed that Republicans unite behind Donelon for the special election to choose Treen's congressional successor. In 1996–1997, the Christian Coalition gave him an overall 80 percent rating for that legislative session.

After he won repeated legislative reelection in Jefferson Parish, Donelon became his party's "sacrificial lamb" in 1998 against U. S. Senator John Breaux of Crowley in Acadia Parish, who was running for a third and, as it turned out, final term as senator. Donelon stepped up to run when other candidates deferred to the inevitability of Breaux's reelection. The race was not close. Breaux won the nonpartisan blanket primary, often called the jungle primary, outright with 620,504 votes (64 percent). Donelon trailed with 306,616 (32 percent). The remaining 4 percent was shared by a half-dozen minor candidates, including L. D. Knox of Winnsboro in Franklin Parish, who legally changed his name to include "Nota," meaning "None of the Above," to stress the need for the option of rejecting all the declared candidates.[20]

Donelon held the legislative seat, District 98, for nineteen years until his resignation on June 30, 2001. As he took the position in the Department of Insurance, Donelon was succeeded by a fellow Republican, Tom Capella.

Before he left the legislature, Donelon ran in a special judicial election on March 27, 1999. He was defeated by Republican Ronald Bodenheimer (born 1953), who polled 8,981 votes (55 percent) to Donelon's 7,300 (45 percent).[21] In that race Donelon unsuccessfully used the slogan "Who Better to Interpret the Laws Than the Person Who Wrote Them?" Judge Bodenheimer, a former prosecutor, went to prison for three years on conviction of having conspired to plant the prescription painkiller OxyContin in the automobile of an FBI informant who frequently complained about drug trafficking and zoning violations at a seafood marina owned by Bodenheimer in Orleans Parish.[22]

Donelon, along with fellow lawmakers Kernan "Skip" Hand, Ken Hollis, and Steven Theriot, all of the New Orleans suburbs, admitted to having given Tulane University scholarships to their children. Legislators are allowed under an 1884 law to designate one Tulane scholarship recipient per year, but the practice of giving such awards, totaling $17,000 in 1993 dollars, to family members had been previously unknown.[23][24]

Insurance commissioner

While serving in the Louisiana House, a part-time position, Donelon maintained his private law practice. In the legislature, he was chairman of the Committee on Insurance and Co-Chairman of the Republican legislative delegation. He was sworn in as insurance commissioner on February 15, 2006.

On June 5, 2006, Commissioner Donelon issued Advisory Letter 06-04 to the approximately one hundred companies with homeowners insurance policies in Louisiana. The letter requests their cooperation in extending from one to two years the prescriptive period for policyholders with Hurricane Katrina and/or Hurricane Rita claims to file no later than August 1, 2006. In most cases, a Louisiana policyholder's right to file suit on a homeowners insurance claim is limited to twelve months. Donelon said that "given the unprecedented number of claims following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, one year is simply not going to be enough time for many policyholders and insurance companies to work out a settlement favorable to both parties."[25]

Wooley said that he had planned to resign prior to the hurricanes, "[but] when Katrina hit, we decided we had to try to get through at least the crisis part of it". Wooley said that he had accomplished most of his goals as commissioner prior to the hurricanes, the most important of which was restoring the public image of the Department of Insurance. Wooley joined the department in 1999 as the chief deputy for then Insurance Commissioner James H. "Jim" Brown. In the fall of 2000, Brown, a Democrat, was convicted of lying to an FBI agent, and Wooley moved up to the commissioner's position. Wooley was the first commissioner to leave office without a streak of scandal. His predecessors went to prison. Brown served a six-month sentence in the facility in Oakdale in Allen Parish. Democrat Douglas D. "Doug" Green of Baton Rouge received twenty-five years for his part in the Champion Insurance scandal of the late 1980s but served eleven years. Sherman Albert Bernard, Sr., who is also remembered for having opposed the Democratic re-nomination of Senator Russell Long in 1974, served time for extorting bribes from insurance companies doing business with the state.[26][24]

Commissioner Donelon clashed with former Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot, one of Donelon's former legislative colleagues who had also obtained Tulane scholarships for a family member. As part of an investigation, Theriot demanded department records from Donelon regarding the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Theriot's probe led to the indictment of the corporation's former president, Terry Lisotta.[27] Ultimately, Theriot had to obtain a court order to inspect the records, which Donelon had tried to keep off limits.[28]

2006 special election

In the special election, Donelon faced a fellow Democrat-turned-Republican with populist roots, state Senator James David Cain of Dry Creek, whose legislature term expired on January 14, 2008. Cain proposed the creation of two new positions in the insurance department: an inspector general to check waste, mismanagement, and fraud, and a consumer advocate.[24] Cain also questioned Donelon's commitment to the Republican Party because of Donelon's acceptance of the staff appointment from the Democrat Wooley. Yet, Donelon has been a registered Republican for twenty years longer than Cain. Cain's opponents said that he violated Ronald W. Reagan's "Eleventh Commandment": "Thou shall not speak ill of another Republican."

Cain unveiled a five-point plan to bring "integrity, efficiency, and accountability" to the insurance office. He accused Donelon, with whom he had served in the state House, of having billed the state $50 per hour to attend birthday and retirement parties as well as fundraising galas. He charged that Donelon was not working with insurance companies, such as Allstate, which were threatening to leave Louisiana because of the lack of return. Cain won high-powered endorsements, including former Governor Buddy Roemer, Republican financier Donald T. "Boysie" Bollinger, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. He also picked up the support of a third candidate, DeAnne Henke of Lafayette, who withdrew prior to the primary. A fundraiser was held for Cain at Squire Creek Country Club in Lincoln Parish.[29]

In his term as chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, Cain criticized many of the policies of the Wooley administration, which Donelon had continued. Cain questioned the investigations by the Department of Insurance conducted against companies that tried to avoid reimbursing customers. He also attacked Donelon in the post-storm era, most notably over the continued operations of the Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.[24] Donelon accused Cain of improperly taking campaign funding from a bail bondsman in Alexandria involved in a pyramid scheme that defrauded dozens of residents.[24]

In the special election in 2006, Donelon polled 50.1 percent of the ballots cast in a low-turnout contest. His 283,316 votes were 847 more than the tabulations of his two opponents combined. Republican state Senator James David Cain of Sabine Parish polled 222,414 (39 percent); S. B. A. Zaitoon of the Libertarian Party, received 60,094 votes (11 percent). There was no Democrat in the special election. Donelon ran strongest in urban areas; Cain, in rural parishes and small towns.[30]

2011 reelection

Donelon was challenged for his second full term as commissioner in the primary held on October 22, 2011, by public-interest attorney Donald Carl Hodge (born July 15, 1952), a Democrat from Lake Charles. During the campaign, questions arose about the ethics of the Department of Insurance, the high cost of insurance rates, and the amount of funds that Donelon received from insurance companies. The better-known Donelon, however, handily prevailed with 651,285 votes (67.5 percent) to Hodge's 313,931 (32.5 percent).

2015 campaign

Donelon defeated opposition in the nonpartisan blanket primary held on October 24, 2015, from a Democrat, Charlotte McDaniel McGehee, an attorney in Baton Rouge who carried the endorsement of the Louisiana Democratic Party, and a fellow Republican, Matt David Parker (born September 1957), a veteran of the United States Air Force and an automobile body shop owner in his native Monroe in Ouachita Parish in northeastern Louisiana. Matt Parker claimed that his opponent, Donelon, had failed to keep down insurance rates in the state, with homeowners rates in Louisiana nearly double the national average and premiums up by more than a third since 2006.[31] A second Democrat also ran for the position, Donald Hodge, Jr. (born February 22, 1981), of Baton Rouge, son of the 2011 candidate for insurance commissioner.[32]

Donelon led the four candidate field with 561,382 votes (53.5 percent) to McGehee's 199,371 (19 percent), Parker's 147,481 (14.1 percent), and Hodge's 140,491 (13.4 percent).[33]

2019 reelection

In the nonpartisan blanket primary on October 12, 2019, Donelon defeated a single challenger, a fellow Republican, Timothy Jason "Tim" Temple, 631,721 votes (53 percent) to 549,140 (47 percent.[34]

Temple, who was born on February 18, 1970, is a native of DeRidder in Beauregard Parish, a former insurance agent, and currently a financial services representative in Baton Rouge. He graduated from DeRidder High School in 1988 and thereafter Southern Methodist University in University Park near Dallas, Texas.[35] Temple pledged to finance his campaign with a $1 million personal contribution and therefore had a monetary advantage over Donelon.

In April 2019, Temple called upon Donelon to return a $20,000 contribution from Greg Lindberg, who is alleged to have engaged in bribery with North Carolina Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Temple expressed "shock" over the matter and said "the people of Louisiana deserve to know the full truth about the connection between Jim Donelon and Greg Lindberg. People are tired of the insider politics and backroom deals of career politicians. The ratepayers and citizens deserve lower costs and clean government. I am running to do that in Louisiana.”[36]

References

  1. Donelon Sworn in as Louisiana Commissioner; Predecessor Wooley Joins Law Firm. pianet.com (February 22, 2006). Retrieved on March 22, 2015.
  2. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 20, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Jim Donelon Insurance Commissioner for Louisiana. Jimdonelon.com. Retrieved on August 14, 2019.
  4. James Joseph Donelon, Jr.. findagrave.com. Retrieved on September 8, 2015.
  5. Jim Donelon. CBS News (October 15, 1998). Retrieved on September 8, 2015.
  6. Shreveport Journal,February 21, 1980, p. 13C.
  7. Shreveport Journal, October 11, 1979, special election supplement.
  8. Baton Rouge Advocate, April 3, 1980, p. B1.
  9. Robert Namer. Mylife.com. Retrieved on August 14, 2019.
  10. The Alexandria Town Talk, April 17, 1980, p. 10D
  11. The Alexandria Town Talk, April 17, 1980, p. 10D.
  12. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, April 12, 1980, p. 981.
  13. Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, April 12, 1980, p. 981.
  14. New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 19, 1980, p. 1.
  15. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, April 19, 1980.
  16. Letter from National Republican Congressional Committee by National Chairman William Brock and Congressional Chairman Guy Vander Jagt, Washington, D.C., to Republican contributors across the nation, May 1980.
  17. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, May 17, 1980.
  18. The Baton Rouge Advocate, May 17, 1980, p. 1.
  19. Members of the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2016: Jefferson Parish. house.louisiana.gov. Retrieved on September 8, 2015.
  20. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 3, 1998.
  21. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns (Jefferson Parish, March 27, 1999.
  22. Former Judge Ronald Bodenheimer of New Orleans; criminal, convict. The Committee to Expose Dishonest and Incompetent Judges, Attorney, and Public Official. Retrieved on August 14, 2019.
  23. Scott Dyer, "Scholarship Controversy Grows," The Baton Rouge Advocate, June 17, 1993, p. 1-A.
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 September 25, 2006. Close Race Expected in Commissioner Face off in La.. Retrieved on August 15, 2019.
  25. Louisiana Commissioner Seeks to Extend Time to Sue over Katrina/Rita Claims. Yourlawyer.com (June 6, 2006). Retrieved on September 8, 2015.
  26. Jim Bradshaw (October 2002). "Louisiana's seen several jailed state officials". Capitolwatch.reallouisiana.com. Retrieved on June 15, 2013.
  27. Jan Moller (November 3, 2009). "Legislative auditor Steve Theriot to retire; assistant to handle duties temporarily". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved on November 21, 2009.
  28. Ron Thibodeaux (August 17, 2009). "Auditor's staff begins scrutiny of Insurance Department records". New Orleans Times-Picayune. Retrieved on November 21, 2009.
  29. Squire Creek. jamesdavidcain.com (June 27, 2006). Retrieved on August 5, 201; no longer on-line..
  30. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, September 30, 2006.
  31. Matt Parker: Insurance Commissioner. mattparkerforlouisiana.com. Retrieved on September 8, 2015; no longer on-line..
  32. Candidates Qualified in Statewide Elections. KEEL Radio (AM). Retrieved on September 11, 2015.
  33. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Results, October 24, 2015.
  34. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 12, 2019.
  35. Timothy Temple. Mylife.com. Retrieved on August 14, 2019.
  36. Tim Temple Campaign Calls on Commissioner Jim Donelon to Return $20,000 in Campaign Contributions from Greg Lindberg after Bribery Arrest. Templeforlouisiana.com (April 2, 2019). Retrieved on August 15, 2019.