Bossier Parish state legislators were disproportionately critical of a plan to spend $45 million in the hopes of lowering property insurance rates, with one in particular perhaps using that opposition as part of a road to political redemption.
Last week, the Louisiana Legislature met in special session to deal with a discrete item: funding a program designed to subsidize insurers to come into and write for years property insurance policies. This hopes to stimulate artificially, using surplus dollars from this year’s budget, competition that could drive rates down and offer a choice to homeowners currently having to acquire their insurance through Louisiana Citizens, the state-run (thus taxpayer-backed) insurer of last resort obligated to charge significantly higher rates. The 2020 and 2021 hurricane seasons sent an unusual amount of damaging storms to the state’s shore, sending insurers fleeing or bankrupting them that left policy-holders in the lurch at levels last seen after the hurricane disasters of 2005.
Overwhelming majorities in each chamber went with the plan, which proponents argued had to happen now in order for the possibility of lower rates to appear by the start of storm season. However, there were nine total dissenters to transferring the money, three of whom represent parts of Bossier. Of course, few homeowners in the parish would have properties uninsurable to the point that Citizens would have to step in.
Although more based in Caddo Parish, both Republican state Reps. Danny McCormick and Thomas Pressly voted against that. During House debate on the measure they didn’t make any remarks, which four of the chamber’s eight eventual dissenters did.
However, the solo dissenter in the Senate, GOP state Sen. Barrow Peacock who also represents both parishes, did. In his questioning, Peacock, who has a background in finance, noted that reinsurance markets remained open year-round and companies would be willing to buy from those any time up to the Jun. 1, that the money could have come at least in part from self-generated Department of Insurance funds, that he saw evidence with price adjustments that the private market without subsidization could depopulate Citizens, that the program’s capital requirements for participants actually had been reduced (to attract more companies but at more financial risk), and that the same program has been implemented after 2005 but the same situation now existed in 2023 so this was becoming an endemic and questionable strategy.
Conservatives most charitably could be said to have lukewarm feelings about the bill. When lawmakers began floating the idea of the session, the House’s Louisiana Conservative Caucus tepidly endorsed it, but floated alternatives and rued the narrowness of the session call that prevented debate on and possible enactment of other ideas with an emphasis on market-based solutions or subsidization of ratepayers rather than insurers. Its chairman brought up one of those as a bill amendment, but withdrew it with a pledge to make legislation of it for the upcoming regular session. Except for Republican state Rep. Wayne McMahen who represents one Bossier precinct, all House members who represent Bossier are Caucus members (it limits itself currently only to members of that chamber).
Peacock’s visible opposition didn’t come close to sinking the bill, which became law this week, but it might start a political comeback for him. In last year’s Shreveport mayoral election, he made seen retrospectively a disastrous decision to come out early and vocally for Democrat state Sen. Greg Tarver. Area Republicans almost to a person backed the candidacy of the GOP’s now-Mayor Tom Arceneaux, but four months before the election few observers gave him a chance to win while Tarver seemed to be the favorite.
It wasn’t entirely irrational for Peacock to throw his support this way. If Shreveport had to have a black Democrat as mayor, which seemed likely as it has a majority of black registered voters, Tarver’s recent Senate record made him one of the least liberal in the state. A Tarver win would have put conservatives in a better position for influence than if either of the other two major Democrats in the race had triumphed, and potentially any role that Peacock may have had in a Tarver Administration would have magnified that influence.
But many on the political right couldn’t get past Tarver’s history as a close ally to Democrat former Gov. Prisoner #03128-095 – so close he almost went to jail with the felon once known as Edwin Edwards for corrupt activities. Ironically, Peacock when he joined the Senate had cast the sole vote against Republican former Sen. John Alario for Senate president as a result of a campaign promise made to constituents wary of Alario’s close allegiance in the past to Edwards.
It all backfired for Peacock when Arceneaux scored the upset, making Peacock a pariah among many conservatives, some of whom on social media and broadcast media essentially called him a traitor to their cause. This also put any future political career he contemplated, being term-limited in the Senate, into serious jeopardy as activists who formerly may have aided him in pursuit of another elective office now might be inclined to give him the cold shoulder.
Conservatives dubious of the $45 million subsidy to insurers might be encouraged to see him champion that principled opposition, but if he is to regain trust on the right that can extend his political shelf life he’ll have to make many more such overtures in a limited amount of time.