BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana insurance commissioner’s race on the Oct. 12 ballot is a competition between two Republicans, the one who’s held the job for more than a decade and an opponent who says the state’s insurance climate has worsened during that tenure.
Jim Donelon, a former state lawmaker from Metairie who’s been insurance commissioner since 2006, said he’s restored integrity to and removed corruption from an office that saw three former commissioners serve prison time. He said he helped draw new companies to a property insurance market devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
“I’m proud to tell you that today we have more insurers doing business in our state across all lines than ever before,” Donelon said at a Monday candidate forum. “That competition has resulted in lower rates for consumers of auto, workers comp and homeowners’ insurance.”
But his opponent Tim Temple of Baton Rouge, president of a real estate management company, described a different insurance outlook for Louisiana. He said Donelon has done too little to lower automobile and commercial trucking insurance rates.
“Louisiana needs a commissioner who understands the marketplace, the distribution channels, and is dedicated to making insurance affordable again,” Temple said. “Commissioner Donelon is the architect of the worst insurance market in America.”
At a forum held by the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Temple described his 20 years of prior work in the insurance industry and repeatedly criticized Donelon’s management of the department, particularly on car insurance rates.
“Louisiana’s the most unaffordable state in America for insurance. Our private passenger auto rates are the second highest in the country and forecast to be No. 1 next year,” he said.
Donelon pointed to rate cuts recently announced by three companies that he said will lower premiums for 1.5 million drivers. But he also acknowledged: “We still have challenges in our auto insurance market.”
The incumbent insurance commissioner said he’ll work again with state lawmakers to try to place more limits on the civil litigation system, aimed at lessening the damages awarded against insurance companies.
“It’s our broken legal system that is the longtime cause of our insurance rates being high,” Donelon said.
While business groups are pushing the so-called “tort reform” proposals, critics say there’s no proof such legal system changes would lower car insurance rates and the changes could keep people injured in car accidents from adequate compensation. A Senate committee packed with attorneys killed a sweeping civil litigation system rewrite earlier this year.
Temple suggested Donelon has done little to push the effort.
“He’s had 14 years as commissioner to pass tort reform and lower rates,” Temple said. “And he’s failed.”
Temple said he’d focus on increasing competition in Louisiana’s insurance market, reaching out to companies that have left the state. He said he’d determine what regulatory changes would bring the companies back to the state and he’d work to enact them.
Donelon suggested some of those regulatory changes could lead to higher insurance rates for customers.
Temple has put more than $1 million of his own money into the race to challenge Donelon, and he’s outspent Donelon so far. But Donelon had $913,000 in his campaign account at the beginning of September to spend on his final advertising blitz, compared to $175,000 for Temple.
Both men are taking campaign contributions from the insurance industry.