The public servant

Published 1:39 am Wednesday, February 4, 2009

By Staff
Many folks will remember Jim Long, the former North Carolina insurance commissioner who died Monday at age 68, for those trademark red ties he wore.
Others will remember him for being the self-proclaimed “oldest rat in the Democratic barn” when he came to state government. The “rat” refers to the last three letters in Democrat.
For many North Carolina motorists and others, Long will be remembered for being their advocate when it came to insurance rates. The Alamance County native saved the state’s motorists much money on their automobile insurance premiums. Long had a history of opposing proposed rate increases by the automobile insurers who do business in the state when he believed those proposed rate increases were not justified.
Because of Long’s efforts, North Carolina has the fifth lowest automobile insurance rates in the nation.
Long’s commitment to the state’s insurance consumers did not go unnoticed.
According to the N.C. Department of Insurance, Long helped save North Carolina consumers nearly $4.2 billion in automobile insurance premiums during his 24 years in office, which ended last month when he retired after choosing not to seek re-election last year. Long was the longest serving member of the Council of State, a 10-member body, before he retired. And like his father and grandfather, Long represented Alamance County in the General Assembly.
Long also opposed Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s effort to become a for-profit company, an effort that ultimately failed. He helped develop a Patients’ Bill of Rights and establish a high-risk insurance pool.
Soon after taking office as insurance commissioner, Long brought automation to the Department of Insurance, making the department the first state agency to have e-mail capabilities. He also added several consumer-protection programs to his agency’s offerings.
As the state’s fire marshal, Long secured funds for many fire departments in the state, money he knew they needed to buy new equipment.
No stranger to eastern North Carolina, he came this way numerous times in his capacity 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 unnecessary risk.
Long may have been the “oldest rat in the barn,” but he was a productive “rat.”