The late Insurance Commissioner was a populist, an eccentric, a scourge of insurance companies and – regrettably – a big reason Jesse Helms was U.S. Senator for so long.
Elected commissioner in 1972, Ingram waged a 12-year crusade against auto insurance companies, claiming they gouged customers. “Fighting for You” was his mantra. But his management style was so chaotic and his rulings so erratic he lost nearly every rate case in court. Eventually the legislature took away his rate-setting power.
In 1978, Helms’ first reelection campaign, Ingram was an underdog candidate for U.S. Senate. The heavy favorite in the Democratic primary was Luther Hodges Jr., a wealthy Charlotte banker and son of the former governor.
Hodges led the crowded primary, but didn’t get the 50 percent then required to avoid a runoff against Ingram, who finished second.
The runoff was the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Almost nobody voted. And, Democrats suspect, Helms’ Congressional Club did all it could to help Ingram, figuring he would be the weaker candidate in the fall.
He won the primary and, sure enough, was a disaster in November. He ran an inept, kamikaze campaign. Big-name Democrats steered clear of him. Helms outspent him something like $7 million to $150,000.
Helms won big and went back to the Senate. Ingram went back to bashing insurance companies. He fell out with a series of aides, including Jim Long, who later succeeded him as commissioner. Ingram got bad press for spending big money on his offices and stepped-up security, as well as spending a lot of time building condos in Myrtle Beach.
It didn’t help that Ingram was one of those folks who the more he talked, the more he sounded a couple of innings short of a full game.
In 1984, he ran for Governor, finishing fifth in the primary. In 1986 and 1990, he ran and lost for Senate again. He apparently spent most of his later years in Myrtle Beach.
In an age of boring, buttoned-down politicians, I miss John Ingram. A little.