With Louisiana Republican Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon opting out of a fifth full term, past and present challenger Tim Temple shouldn’t count on frontrunner status, much less triumphing this fall.
Donelon will call it quits in a not-entirely surprising move. He would have been into his eighties at term’s end and he faced a tough battle with the GOP’s Temple in 2019, who essentially never stopped running. In the meantime, his department faced increased scrutiny over a burgeoning population of the state’s property insurer of last resort that likely could have been ameliorated and a solution he backed to reduce that may not represent the best option. This recent history of departmental shortcoming wasn’t the greatest publicity surrounding a potential campaign.
Still, Donelon remained an upgrade over what Temple promises to bring. Donelon helped mitigate a streak of about half a century prior to his assuming command where nearly every of his predecessors went to jail or, in the case of his former boss Democrat Robert Wooley, vacated his post under a cloud of suspicion. Temple has been backed by Wooley, who became a lobbyist but who also lapsed into his previous activity as a campaign manager, and as well as by many of Wooley’s cronies.
In that prior campaign, Temple gave few details about his policy preferences and this time out appears to give fewer still (while ironically claiming he’ll provide greater transparency in the office) issuing extremely broad platitudes about lower rates but no details as to how to achieve these. By way of reference, advocates for greater regulation of rate-setting through policy choices demonstrably likely to increase vehicle rates spout similar rhetoric, so it is uncertain whether Temple would endorse policies that would roll back reforms that attenuated trial lawyer bounty from Louisiana’s needlessly litigious insurance regime.
That recapture certainly would be the agenda of another contestant looking to enter the race to replace. Trial lawyer Republican former state Sen. Ryan Gatti is mulling his options on this. Like Temple, in his last contest, a defeat for reelection where he spent more than any legislative candidate in state history in the most expensive race in state history, he is personally wealthy enough to give his campaign a major shot in the arm – but perhaps not as able to self-finance as Temple. He put in around half a million bucks in that 2019 Senate contest, but Temple dumped in more than $1.9 million of his own in his 2019 defeat.
Gatti also has a record that Temple doesn’t have to justify. Gatti’s campaign strategy hyped social conservatism in his one Senate term while downplaying his votes favoring trial lawyer interests and bigger government. The office’s focus on rates negates any leveraging of a social conservatism record, leaving any issue preferences calling for retreat from reforms or shilling for trial lawyers obvious for all.
This would provide an advantage to Temple in his ability to shroud his preferences in secrecy and begs for a conservative with a demonstrated record supporting smaller government, if not also support of tort reform, to enter the contest. And he may well draw another opponent with these qualities, Republican Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta, midway through his final term who has signaled interest in the contest. Over his previous two-plus terms on the LPSC, Skrmetta has shown a commitment to right-sized government and an appropriately weighed regulatory touch.
If he enters, that still may not doom Temple’s chances, especially if Gatti, with the two tussling over many of the same voters more to the left, stays out. What would put his candidacy in serious jeopardy would be the entrance of black Democrat state Rep. Edmond Jordan into the race. He owns an insurance agency and is one of those supporting Trojan Horse insurance “reform” that actually would end up feathering trial lawyers’ nests in raising vehicle rates – stealing Gatti’s thunder and making Temple’s vagueness untenable.
A quality black candidate would peel away most blacks and Democrats from white Republican Temple or Gatti. Skrmetta’s record will attract most conservative voters, leaving these other GOP candidates high and dry.
Actually, there isn’t much the commissioner can do to impact rates, other than make good judgments in rate setting and using administrative discretion at the margins when called upon to promulgate rulings that affect coverage and rates. Yet even if the most a commissioner can do is cheerlead and provide resources for those wanting to reduce costs, including support of creating a legal environment not unduly and needlessly burdensome for insurers, it’s valuable to have that kind of person in that office. Such a candidate, if present, seems more likely to win than Temple.