SADOW: Col. Maness, You’re Doing It Wrong

How you don’t run for public office: Part I, starring Rob Maness (Part II might be here).

When asked about his view on allowing exceptions to having flood rates match risk, Maness said he was against that before being for it. Recently, the law changed that was designed to reduce, if not eliminate, subsidization of rates that kept them artificially low. The problem, from the perspective of a Louisiana federal officeholder, is that Louisianans disproportionately benefitted from the program, even as it allowed for some taxpayers to subsidize others, including many families of middle class and higher lifestyles and income.

Both incumbent Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main challenger Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy voted for the legislation. Landrieu said she did under protest because it was attached to other legislation that enabled money to be spent on recovery from the oil well blowout disaster of 2010. Cassidy also saw that part of the bill as salutary, and wanted to put the flood insurance program on solid footing and available, which it would have lapsed without passage. It has run a deficit, particularly aggravated by the Louisiana hurricane disasters of 2005 and the New Jersey hurricane disaster of 2012, in part because the rates badly underpriced risk for many holders of these policies. Both have offered legislation that would delay implementation of what they voted for, and in the fiscal year 2014 budget that last week both voted for it contains a provision that delays until 2015 these rate increases regarding some policyholders.

The 2012 vote was a hard vote for these seasoned politicians, and both received criticism for it. But Maness, who has lived in the state a short while and is a rookie candidate, on the issue tried to have his cake and eat it, too. His campaign strategy to date has been to claim that Cassidy – despite his having a congressional voting record heavily weighted towards the conservative side and is more conservative than even the typical House Republican – is not a principled conservative and sells out too often, and so Maness has tried to articulate issue preferences he says are based on conservative principles, including an emphasis on fiscal probity.

Maness argued that he was against exceptions to slow implementation of the law’s premium schedule, because of the actuarial unsoundness of the program that has required frequent taxpayer bailouts. Yet he said if he were in Congress already he would vote for them, because “we have to do something. We have a moral obligation since we forced people into the insurance program.”

Which, of course, is exactly wrong in reasoning. Nobody forced anybody to buy housing in areas that could flood, regardless of what flood maps said at the time of purchase as it’s so much common sense; for example, if you live near a river, expect to buy this kind of insurance. In fact, had the federal government not taken over the flood insurance business and priced it so unrealistically low in places, this may have encouraged building and the buying of homes in areas at risk for flooding. By this logic, Maness should support increased welfare payouts since they are “forced” to live off of it – never mind that many are able-bodied and could choose to work or work in better jobs if they change their attitudes and habits.

Maness probably does not support that, but it’s expository as to how his tactic to try to say he can retain principle – what allegedly makes him a more conservative candidate than Cassidy – yet avoid the unpopular consequences of actually following that principle. And reveals so nakedly that he can pander just like any politician but so less effectively, befitting his untested status in politics.

Landrieu and Cassidy can be blamed by those seeing their rates increase dramatically or by those whose rates don’t but whose grandfathered status makes their homes much less valuable to sell, if not unsaleable. They said they had reservations about their votes to enable this but thought the benefits overall to the country outweighed the hardships some of their constituents would feel and even after the budget deal are trying, in different ways, to provide additional rate relief. They aren’t claiming they acted in a principled fashion, but in a political one.

As opposed to Maness, who says what sets him apart is principle, but whose only excuse on behaving (if he had the chance) on this issue is the opposite rests on an invalid argument and a promise to get the government out of the business by an unspecified “energizing” of private insurers to provide an affordable market. Naturally, this is a fantasy; there’s no way risk can be apportioned in a way to make rates for all who need it not prohibitively expensive unless, as with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, everybody is required to have flood insurance, even those with no flood risk at all. Which means bigger government, which Maness claims he’s against.

The real solution is to return to the system prior to the institution of the National Flood Insurance Program – allow a private market for insurance and then let government act as a reinsurer through discrete disaster spending bills as needed. Only this allows a private market to flourish with minimal government involvement, and also, because there is no guarantee that government would intervene in every situation, not overly encourage building in risky areas.

Voters prefer principled candidates that deviate from them infrequently because they know what they’re going to get. Less principled candidates can be tolerated because if they can’t be evaluated on principles, their behavior is predictable in that they’ll do what’s politically expedient. However, voters scorn most the candidates who claim they are principled yet act expediently on that issue (and who don’t seem to think through the implications of their preferences, as in his preferred flood insurance policy). Maness doesn’t seem to know this, and for a guy trying to prove he’s a serious candidate, that only promotes the opposite impression.

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