Clark Shultz is the most seasoned politician among the five Republicans running for Kansas insurance commissioner.
In this era of the political outsider, that’s not the advantage that it used to be. But in a down-ballot race, Shultz is counting on the experience factor to give him an edge over his competitors for the GOP nomination.
“The strength that I have is an 18-year legislative history and 10 years of being insurance chairman in the House,” Shultz says. “I’ve really dealt with every conceivable issue.”
Asked for an example, Shultz says he was “heavily involved” in crafting legislation that protects policyholders if their insurance carrier becomes insolvent.
“It doesn’t grab headlines, but it’s a very important piece of technical legislation,” he says. “I have scores of those types of issues where I’ve been there.”
Shultz, a title insurance agent, lives in McPherson with his wife, Lori. The couple have six children.
In addition to the Legislature, Shultz, 57, has served on a school board and as a member of the McPherson County Mental Health Advisory Committee.
After 17 years in the House, Shultz was selected last year to fill Jay Emler’s unexpired term in the Kansas Senate when Emler was appointed to the Kansas Corporation Commission.
Shultz’s decision to run for insurance commissioner when incumbent Sandy Praeger announced she would not seek a fourth term wasn’t a surprise. For the last several years, it had appeared to Statehouse insiders that Shultz was solidifying his conservative credentials in preparation for a statewide race.
In the 2014 session, for example, Shultz sponsored an amendment prohibiting Gov. Sam Brownback from expanding Medicaid eligibility to levels authorized by the federal health reform law. The amendment wasn’t necessary because Brownback – a vocal opponent of the reform law – had given no indication that he was preparing to unilaterally trigger expansion. But offering the amendment gave Shultz an opportunity to demonstrate to GOP primary voters that he was willing to take a stand against Obamacare.
Shultz further demonstrated that opposition by supporting a controversial bill to allow Kansas to join with other states in taking control of the federal health care dollars that flow to them. Praeger and officials from several groups, including AARP Kansas, urged lawmakers to reject the measure, fearing that state control of Medicare could jeopardize the benefits of the nearly 450,000 Kansas seniors enrolled in the program.
Several Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill, but Shultz voted for it, explaining that he didn’t think it would affect Medicare benefits.
“I don’t think that is the intention of the compact,” he said moments after the vote. “If I thought it was, that would cause me great concern. We can back out if we see danger signals.”
Understanding that he would need the support of conservatives to win the primary but moderates to defeat Democrat Dennis Anderson in the fall, Shultz sought endorsements from members of both wings of the Republican Party. And he got them. Conservative Congressman Tim Huelskamp endorsed him. So did Praeger, one of the few Republican elected officials in Kansas to support the Affordable Care Act.
Announcing his endorsement on Twitter, Huelskamp said: “Clark Shultz is a strong conservative candidate for insurance commissioner. Clark has extensive experience in the insurance industry and is the best candidate to steer us through the disastrous harm that Obamacare has caused our healthcare system in Kansas.”
Shultz’s effort to woo conservative voters gave Praeger second thoughts even though the politician in her understood why he was doing it.
“It is very difficult because of all the litmus tests you have to pass to get through the Republican primary,” she says. “I know I couldn’t be elected in the current environment.”
Praeger, who also has expressed support for Anderson, the lone Democrat in the race, says she decided to stick with her endorsement of Shultz in the GOP primary because of the working relationship she formed with him when he chaired the House Insurance Committee.
“That’s a good background to be insurance commissioner,” Praeger says. “From the standpoint of the primary, he’s probably the best qualified in terms of understanding what the department does.”
As he campaigns, Shultz works to maintain his balance on what amounts to a political tightrope. He reached out to conservatives when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against requiring businesses to cover contraceptive services in the Hobby Lobby case by tweeting: “Victory for religious freedom.”
But when discussing the insurance department’s role in educating consumers about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, he sent a signal to moderates by conceding that the law is unlikely to be repealed any time soon and that he’s committed to educating consumers and helping them navigate their choices.
“I will be very strong on making sure we help Kansas consumers whatever the issue is,” he says.
And despite his sponsorship of the Medicaid amendment, Shultz says he is open to the kind of private-sector approach to expansion that some Republican governors are taking. They are attempting to use federal Medicaid dollars to help low-income adults purchase private coverage.
“I think the private sector approach is probably the only approach that would be considered in Kansas,” Shultz says.
In interviews, Shultz shifts the discussion away from controversial issues, preferring to talk about his experience and how it has prepared him to lead a regulatory agency that must balance the needs of insurance companies and consumers.
“We do have to strike a balance,” he says. “But I’m there for the consumer. That is the reason the department exists; to make sure they (consumers) are getting what they are paying for from insurance companies.”
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