Originally created 08/07/02

Candidates want chance to unseat GOP incumbent



ATLANTA - Tom Holak concedes he hasn't learned anything about the two Georgians vying to be the Democratic candidate for this fall's insurance commissioner election.

"To me, you don't really research it," said Mr. Holak, a 54-year-old owner of a shoe-and-clothing repair shop in downtown Atlanta. "You just get in the booth and you feel you have to make a choice."

While Mr. Holak's laissez-faire estimation of the insurance commissioner race may parallel the attitudes of many Georgians, the two Democratic candidates for the office see things a little differently.

Both are hoping for a chance to go head to head with Republican incumbent John Oxendine in November's general election.

But before taking on Mr. Oxendine, both Lois Cohen and William Randy Murray must convince voters in the Aug 20. democratic primary why they are each the best option for the left.

Mr. Cohen, a 55-year-old stockbroker from Columbus, is an outsider when it comes to the world of insurance.

Raised in Maine, Ms. Cohen came to Georgia after college and became heavily involved in civic groups, ranging from the local Olympics committee to United Way.

She also served four years as the president of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, from 1993 to 1996.

Ms. Cohen has placed health insurance at the top of her platform, with specific regard to keeping health coverage affordable.

"The confluence of rising insurance costs and a declining economy is forcing employers to pass on cost increases to their employees," Ms. Cohen said. "Now more than ever, the people of Georgia need a new, more effective insurance commissioner, one who is not beholden to insurance companies."

Mr. Murray, a 54-year-old retired insurance consultant from Toccoa, boasts 33 years of experience as an independent insurance broker.

He also served as the mayor of Toccoa from 1987 to 1990.

Mr. Murray's main issues are developing closer scrutiny of the insurance policies offered in Georgia, to make sure everyone from business owners to boat owners are charged fair rates.

Mr. Murray also pledges to fight the under-the-table discrimination he has seen against groups such as blue-collar workers and gays and lesbians.

He said discriminatory practices of some insurance companies should not be tolerated by state officials.

Also on Mr. Murray's to-do list is to advocate for the state's fire marshal to be an appointed position, instead of having the insurance commissioner assume the duty.

"The governor should appoint someone independently for that," said Mr. Murray.

Both Mr. Murray and Ms. Cohen face a significant financial battle in running against Mr. Oxendine.

The incumbent's latest campaign report shows him with nearly $1.15 million in his coffers. Mr. Murray has $249,950, while Ms. Cohen reports $63,229.

Whoever wins the democratic primary will face Mr. Oxendine and Libertarian candidate Helmut Forren in the Nov. 5 election.

BIO BOXES

Name: Lois Cohen

Party: Democrat

Hometown: Columbus

Age: 55

Family: Husband, Marvin; sons Larry, 29, and Scott, 23

Education: Bachelor of science from Arkansas State University, 1969

Occupation: Former stockbroker

Political experience: None

Major issues: Providing affordable health insurance to all Georgians, enforcing lower insurance rates

Web site: None

Name: William Randy Murray

Party: Democrat

Hometown: Toccoa

Age: 54

Family: Wife, Gloria; daughters, Elizabeth, 22, and Claire, 21

Education: Bachelor of Business Administration from University of Georgia, 1969

Occupation: Retired insurance broker, 33 years' experience

Political experience: Mayor of Toccoa, 1987-1990; Toccoa city commissioner, 1998-1999

Major issues: Offering fair insurance prices, policing insurance companies to stop unfair discrimination, removing fire marshal from insurance commissioner's job description

Web site: None

Reach Brian Basinger at (404) 589-8424, or via e-mail at brianmns@mindspring.com