As a Louisiana liberal steeped in the state’s populist tradition, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards knows the best way to stop something that makes sense with a lot of momentum against his special interest allies, like in the case of tort reform, is to demagogue it to death.
He registered full-throated illustration of this among his otherwise reheated comments this week to the media. Largely replaying his inauguration remarks that put forth an agenda going nowhere, he also introduced a new element addressing likely the hottest issue of the legislative regular session starting next week: tort reform of case law involving vehicles.
With the public increasingly tired of Louisiana’s extraordinarily high rates – second for passenger vehicles – Republicans have presented an impressive package of bills that builds upon best practices for lower rates in other states, incorporating many items they have offered in the past. The compelling nature of these bills plus the overwhelming GOP majorities in both chambers means these bills will pass.
The sum effect would diminish lawyer livelihoods (putting, one practitioner opined, lots of lawyers out of business), a constituency Edwards crucially needed, both in term of money and votes, to secure reelection. Only he stands between the same system and lower rates with his veto power.
Problem is, Republicans have the votes plus one in the Senate by which to override, and fall just two short in the House. Some Democrats in each could be expected to vote with them on the package and for potential veto overrides – all things equal. So, Democrats and Edwards must try not to let things stay equal.
Hence Edwards’ support in the speech for a rival legislative package of legal changes that allegedly address the issue of high rates. These would prohibit rate-determining measures allowed in most states, with the U.S. Constitution allowing for all. He commented, “Premiums ought to be set on driving records, not on whether someone’s poor or female and that sort of thing.”
Keep in mind the extreme cynicism here. Edwards nor Democrats previously never cared about rates, with him having never forwarded “reform” as part of any legislative agenda nor those in the Legislature offering “reform” items of any kind. The only reason they appear to do so now is because of the political dynamics involved, which has created in their minds an imperative to try to counter reform efforts. None of it is based on serving the public; it is all political to serve a special interest.
Note also the sleight-of-hand involved. The Democrat package doesn’t address laws that allow companies to set rates based on a person’s wealth, because there aren’t any. Instead, they address creditworthiness, which is associated with wealth but isn’t the same thing. That’s an object lesson in how to inject demagoguery into the debate.
What Edwards supports has no chance of passing. But it does attempt to give a lifeline to Democrats (and the odd Republican here or there close to the trial lawyer lobby). By presenting this faux solution, it creates an excuse for those sympathetic to that lobby to vote against the genuine reforms, alleging that a better solution exists.
We know that states with the kind of laws Republicans offer have dramatically lower rates. We know legislative Democrats who would like to help out their constituents know this – such as state Reps. Travis Johnson and Mack Cormier, who had to go to runoffs to win, as well as no party state Rep. Roy Daryl Adams. Whether they’ll bite on what Edwards and his allies offer will make the difference as to whether Louisianans will see rate relief anytime soon.
Thus, expect Edwards and Democrats to expound mightily on the supposed unfairness of these indicators the legislation they support would abolish for use in rate-setting – indicators which have a long track record of validly predicting claims histories – in an effort to make abolition of these appear as a reasonable, if not morally imperative, alternative. They don’t mean it, but that won’t stop them.