ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday tapped an adviser with no experience in insurance to be the next commissioner regulating the state’s $26 billion insurance industry, a move that puzzled some in the industry.
Ralph S. Tyler is chief legal counsel for the administration and was executive director of O’Malley’s transition team, working to hire administrators for state agencies. In his new position, he will oversee laws, authorize and license insurers, and handle disputes between consumers and companies.
“Ralph Tyler has been a steadfast advocate for the working families of our state, and there is no one better to lead the Maryland Insurance Administration,” O’Malley said in a prepared statement Thursday.
But some insurers question whether Tyler’s background of practicing law will help him fairly and correctly regulate the industry.
“Why would you ever bring in a commissioner that had no background in insurance?” asked Donna Doerfer, of Doerfer Insurance Services in Towson.
Lobbyist Carolyn Burridge Bonnett agreed that some insurance companies might be uncomfortable with Tyler. But she said that could be a good thing for consumers and small businesses.
“Sometimes the commissioner can be too close to the industry,” Bonnett said. “He may be more open to something like the Massachusetts plan, which lets employees pick which type of health insurance is right for them.”
Bonnett, whose clients at CTB Government Relations include some small businesses and insurance companies, called Tyler smart and hard-working.
Insurance consumers will benefit from Tyler’s years of legal experience, said Christine Hansen, a spokeswoman for O’Malley.
“He worked for the attorney general, who also does a lot as far as consumer advocacy,” she said.
Tyler was a deputy attorney general from 1991 to 1996, before he became a partner in the Baltimore office of the law firm Hogan & Hartson.
The governor’s office noted that when he was Baltimore City solicitor, Tyler won a lawsuit against the Public Service Commission that blocked a possible 72 percent utility rate hike by Baltimore Gas and Electric last summer.
The suit “is credited with allowing the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation to keep utility rates affordable and give utility companies more flexibility in purchasing electricity,” an O’Malley statement said.
But Tyler’s experience as city solicitor does not impress Doerfer.
“Now that O’Malley’s dealing with the whole state, I think he’s making a lot of bad decisions,” she said. “And you can quote me on that . . . it’s ridiculous.”
But Bonnett prefers to remain optimistic.
“Although I think my insurance company friends might disagree, I find the decision refreshing,” she said. “I just don’t think he’ll be as tied to the insurance companies . . . at least I hope he won’t.”
Tyler replaces interim Maryland Insurance Commissioner Peggy Watson, who also serves as O’Malley’s deputy chief of staff. Elizabeth F. Harris will replace Tyler as chief legal counsel on an interim basis, the governor’s office said.