- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Second-term Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney is being challenged in the Republican primary by John Mosley, a body shop owner who says insurance companies have gotten away with paying for less-than-perfect replacement parts to repair damaged vehicles.

Chaney supporters criticize Mosley for hiring a Democratic trial lawyer in 2013 to sue insurance companies over replacement parts, and they question whether Mosley is trying to become the state’s top insurance regulator simply to help fellow body shop owners.

The winner of Tuesday’s Republican primary is likely to also win the Nov. 3 general election because the only other person running for insurance commissioner is a Reform Party candidate with a low-budget campaign.

Mosley said he intends to limit himself to two terms as insurance commissioner. He owns two Jackson-area locations of Clinton Body Shop and is a past president of the Mississippi Collision Repair Association. The lawsuit that he, the association and several other body shop owners filed against insurers is still pending. The main plaintiffs’ attorney is John Eaves Jr., who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2007.

Mosley said Chaney has not required insurance companies to pay for top-quality replacement parts, such as bumpers.

“Our commissioner has been very weak, as far as being a consumer advocate,” Mosley said.

Chaney said state law allows insurers to pay the lowest reasonable estimated cost to repair a damaged vehicle as closely as possible to the condition the vehicle was in before it was damaged.

“If an automobile is less than 4 years old, I don’t know any company that doesn’t replace with original parts,” Chaney said.

Chaney stands by his record, saying he has worked for consumers by expanding the number of companies writing insurance policies in Mississippi. He says more than 15 percent of homeowners’ insurance coverage on the Gulf Coast is now written by companies that didn’t offer policies there before Hurricane Katrina struck a decade ago.

Mosley said insurance costs on the coast are too high, but he didn’t say specifically what he would do to try to change that.

Mosley criticizes Chaney for taking campaign contributions from people in the insurance industry. Although such donations are legal, the challenger said they create a perception of corruption.

“To me, that’s just pure wrong,” Mosley said.

Chaney acknowledged that he sent a letter to insurance agents earlier this year seeking a minimum campaign contribution of $200.

“Dear Friend,” the Chaney letter started. “For the last eight years we have been on the same team of helping policyholders. This year I am facing a primary opponent and I am going to need some help from you.”

Chaney said his fundraising is aboveboard and that he accepts donations from anyone as long as it’s legal. Campaign contributions don’t influence his work, he said. “You get good government whether you give me money or not.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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