As senator, Blumenthal promises to fight for insurance industry he sued as AG

Richard Blumenthal promised today to fight in the U.S. Senate for an insurance industry he has sued repeatedly as Connecticut’s attorney general.

“They’re reasonable and responsible employers,” Blumenthal said. “I would fight for them to recognize their needs in Washington.”

Blumenthal made his remarks at a business-sponsored forum in Hartford attended by a half-dozen candidates trying to succeed Sen. Christopher J. Dodd.

He offered no apology or regrets for the lawsuits he has filed against insurance companies and other businesses, saying those cases were good for consumers and leveled the playing field for other businesses.

“I have fought the insurance industry where absolutely necessary, where there was clear evidence of illegality,” Blumenthal said.

As the Democratic front-runner in a race that political handicappers say is his to lose, Blumenthal was the only target for other candidates, most of whom suggested that Blumenthal had contributed to Connecticut’s reputation as hostile to business.

Blumenthal said enforcement of the law is no detriment to business, and he said his opponents’ view of law enforcement would be a boon to the Bernie Madoffs of the world.

“It’s beyond wrong. It’s silly. It should not be given any credibility. In fact it’s a disservice to public service itself,” he said.

But the overall tone of the forum hosted by the MetroHartford Alliance was gentle, with two Democrats, three Republicans and one independent focusing on their views on improving the business climate.

The exception was Blumenthal’s long-shot challenger for the Democratic nomination, Merrick Alpert, who repeatedly criticized the attorney general’s nearly 20-year tenure as contributing to Connecticut’s anti-business reputation.

“It’s very clear that our reputation as a state, a reputation that harms our businesses, is that we are known as a state where the first response of the government is to sue businesses,” Alpert said. “We’re known as an anti-job state.”

Among the Republicans, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and Linda McMahon, the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, exhibited none of the animosity that has been previously evident in their race for the GOP nomination.

Simmons said after the forum that he would have been happy to compare his background with McMahon’s, but none of the questions gave him that opportunity McMahon said that Simmons’ record in Congress is “fair game” for criticism, but she will use mailings to make those points.

The other candidates participating were Republican Vinny Forras and independent John Mertens. Republican Peter Schiff was in Shanghai on business.

An audience question about health-care reform provoked sharp differences along partisan lines. Blumenthal and Alpert supported the bill, while McMahon, Simmons and Forras opposed it. Mertens said he would have voted for it, but added that Democrats have exaggerated its benefits and Republicans its faults.

The candidates seemed aware of their surroundings, occasionally noting that some of their answers might be well-received.

The active members of the MetroHartford Alliance’s legislative affairs council include Aetna, The Hartford, The Phoenix, United Healthcare and The Travelers. The forum was held at the Hartford Club, next to the Travelers Tower.