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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

One mistake versus a tome of slime

Guy Drexinger accepts that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution didn't endorse him last week instead of current Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

He's going to have to live with it, of course.

What really disturbs Drexinger, though, is the so-called paper of record's failure to print a single article about him or the insurance commissioner's race since he announced his candidacy two years ago. The paper merely dismissed him with a couple of quick strokes on the editorial page.

It's a fact that the Cobb County accountant/attorney made a mistake in 1995. He protected a client of his who was attempting to apply for a small-business loan while illegally concealing a side agreement for another loan.

It's not good.

But it's also a fact that Drexinger fessed up to wrongdoing.

He apologized at the time, and after a brief suspension Judge Steve Shuster appointed him as one of two assistant county guardians in Cobb County. In addition to running his own practice, he is charged with collecting the income of bipolar vets and the mentally disabled and paying their expenses. He also handles money for minors whose parents are deceased.

He's been doing that work for the past eight years.

"Those who know me best in Cobb County continue to trust me," Drexinger said this week. "I've learned from my mistakes. I made a couple of bad errors in judgment, and nothing like that has happened since."

This week Drexinger reluctantly admitted that he was not focused on the law at the time he failed to disclose the information about his client's loan. He was going through a rough time, watching his father die of Lou Gehrig's disease.

"I was not concentrating on being a lawyer," he says.

But he again takes full responsibility for the mistake, just as he did two years ago when he announced his intentions to run for insurance commissioner.

That's more than can be said of John Oxendine.

A Hannah-Barbera cartoon could be made of the commissioner's car crack-ups and bombastic exercises in self-promotion. But what stands out as Oxendine's most egregious transgression is his repeated acceptance of money and gifts from the insurance industry, the very industry he's entrusted to regulate for the people of Georgia. In 2002, he accepted $13,000 toward his re-election campaign from Allstate Insurance. The commissioner then approved a rate increase of 7.6 percent for Allstate's customers. He also received more than $33,000 from State Farm Insurance, just before the election. After he won, State Farm filed for a rate increase. Oxendine also took thousands from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Drexinger says. Meanwhile, Georgians' automobile, health and property insurance rates are high relative to other states.

"He is an insurance commissioner who doesn't acknowledge the mistakes he's made, and he continues to operate with tremendous arrogance," says the challenger.

Drexinger says he's running for office so the people can have an advocate. He promises that as insurance commissioner he would not take any money from the insurance industry, and he's run a campaign free of industry money.

Now inundating the airwaves with ads that look like teasers for the next Steven Spielberg blockbuster, Oxendine has received $2 million in total contributions to his 2006 campaign, to Drexinger's $359,480.

Working at an enormous financial disadvantage, Drexinger hoped the newspapers would step up and cover the race, but what he's found most discouraging over the past two years is the media's lack of interest. Unless there's big money on both sides, the contest is basically treated as a bore-snore, unworthy of coverage. Whatever message the candidate would hope to transmit in a people's press, in an attempt to balance even just a little what the one big-money candidate claims in the world of advertising, is truncated with the cynical conclusion that advertising rules.

"When I set out to win this race I knew we'd be outspent, but I'd like to think we would have at least gotten some press coverage," Drexinger says. "It's tough to unseat an incumbent no matter the incumbent's record."

-- Max Pizarro

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