Yesterday, an era in Louisiana politics came to a close. Jim Donelon, who’s been the state’s Commissioner of Insurance since 2006, decided to hang up his cleats rather than seek re-election this fall.
Longtime Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon does not plan to seek re-election.
The announcement was made on Tuesday, March 14.
“I really thought I could make a contribution by stepping out of the political arena as we go into the legislative session where there will be a debate and disagreement and heated debate and disagreement,” Donelon said. “While very healthy and continuing to exercise, I want to enjoy the remaining years of my life.”
Donelon has served as the Louisiana insurance commissioner for more than 15 years.
The insurance commissioner was first appointed to the position in February 2006 when the seat was vacated by the incumbent. He was elected to fill the unexpired term in 2006 and was re-elected to four consecutive terms in 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019.
The thing people will probably remember most about Donelon is what didn’t happen during his time as Insurance Commissioner – which was him getting marched out of the office in handcuffs. Four of his five predecessors went to jail before he took office and cleaned up the department.
The public perception is going to be that things are nonetheless going south in insurance markets and it’s Donelon’s fault. But that isn’t really fair.
Property insurance is a mess in the state, but there’s a good reason for that – which is that Hurricane Ida did an astonishing amount of damage to property in the state’s most heavily populated areas, and unlike Hurricane Katrina, the worst damage during Ida was done in some high-value neighborhoods. Meaning that insurance losses, which were not socialized by the federal government after Ida like they were in Katrina, were worse in 2021.
You’re going to pay for that in higher insurance rates, and in insurers taking the kinds of losses which scare them out of the state.
Car insurance is high, for sure, and the tort reform plan passed a couple of years ago hasn’t fixed it. Is that on Donelon? Well, he’s not the guy driving all the cars getting in wrecks, and he’s not the guy stealing all the cars.
Car theft is so bad in Louisiana that insurers are refusing to cover certain makes and models. That isn’t Donelon’s fault; it’s a function of a broken state which can’t provide basic services like law enforcement.
There is only so much holding of the line an insurance commissioner can do when you have a state with runaway crime, terrible drivers, failing infrastructure, a destroyed health insurance market thanks to the Medicaid expansion crowding working-class Louisianans out of private health insurance and turning it into a boutique market. Running a clean, honest department, which he’s done, is the most you can ask of Donelon.
He doesn’t make the policies which have trashed our insurance markets. That’s on John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana legislature, and you’ll hear Edwards’ allies trying to pin his failures on Donelon.
He’s an honest public servant. He has been for almost half a century. He deserves thanks for his service.
Donelon’s opponent in the 2019 election, Tim Temple, is running again. Temple is pals with all of the folks who had established the previous tradition in that department. Somebody is going to have to run and win against Temple.
There is some buzz around the idea that Eric Skrmetta, who’s been the most reliable conservative voice on the Public Service Commission for more than a decade, might run. If he does, Skrmetta would be a formidable candidate and he’d have a winning message – because prior to Ida, which trashed a ton of utility infrastructure it’s costing a fortune to rebuild, this state had the cheapest electric rates in America largely due to Skrmetta’s efforts.
He could run on that record and offer to bring his successful methods to the role of Insurance Commissioner. And that would likely be an attractive message for voters starved for positive results after eight years of getting none from the state capitol.