Ruby P. Tankard

Published 3:26 pm Friday, December 12, 2008

By Staff
It was definitely a cheesy event, but a significant one.
Last week during a Council of State meeting, N.C. Insurance Commissioner bequeathed his title as “oldest rat in the barn” and a hunk of cheddar cheese from New York to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall.
The “rat” refers to the last three letters in Democrat.
Long, know for wearing his trademark red ties, refers to himself as the “oldest rat in the barn” because he is the longest-serving Democratic member on the Council of State. Long chose not to seek re-election this year, so when his term expires next month, Marshall becomes the longest-serving Democrat on the Council of State.
Long will have served 24 years as insurance commissioner when he leaves office. Before Long, Thad Eure claimed the title as “oldest rat in the Democratic barn” for years, and rightfully so. He served as N.C. Secretary of State from 1936 to 1989, the longest anyone has held that office.
Long may be the “oldest rat in the barn,” but he was a productive “rat.”
The Alamance County native’s legacy in state government likely will be that he saved the state’s motorists much money when it comes to automobile insurance rates. Long has a history of fighting proposed rate increases by the automobile insurers who do business in the state when he believed those proposed rate increases were not warranted.
According to Long’s office, and there is no reason to doubt its information, Long helped save North Carolina consumers nearly $4.2 billion in automobile insurance premiums during his six terms in office.
Long is a key factor in North Carolina having the fifth-lowest automobile insurance rates in the nation.
Long also added several consumer-protection programs to his agency’s offerings.
Long also brought automation to the Department of Insurance, making the department the first state agency to have e-mail capabilities.
Long, who also serves as the state’s fire marshal, provided many fire departments in the state with the funds they needed to buy new equipment so they would be better prepared to fight fires.
Those are good accomplishments, but Long should be remembered for helping found the North Carolina Special Olympics.
Long was no stranger to eastern North Carolina, coming east of Interstate 95 numerous times during his tenure as insurance commissioner and fire marshal. In March 2007, Long came to Washington for a hearing before the N.C. Building Code Council to fight a proposed building-code rule change that would have reduced the number of buildings required to have sprinkler systems installed.
Long called the change “ill-advised and misguided” and said it would put people at an unnecessary risk.
Long’s dedication to serving North Carolina residents as best he could and his work on their behalf are two of the reasons why Long continues to be, for the next several weeks, the “oldest rat in the barn.”