The Mean Season
The Decision To Not Certify George Dale Shows Democrats Value Party Loyalty Over Public Interest.
By Perry Hicks- Special to GulfCoastNews.com 5/7/07
It should have been no surprise that the Mississippi Democratic Executive Committee would have voted 16 to 11 against certifying Insurance Commissioner George Dale for this year’s election. All the way back in January, Mississippi’s attorney general issued an opinion stating political parties could not base certification on a general perception of party loyalty- the very criteria used to judge Dale and State Representative Mary Ann Stevens unfit to run as Democrats.
As the March 1 filing deadline had been passed, the refusal to certify Dale meant Dale could not run as either a Democrat or an Independent.
Dale subsequently sued to be reinstated and briefs were recently submitted to be heard by a special chancery court judge. The judge, Henry Lackey, was appointed by the Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court specifically to hear the case. A decision is expected soon.
In an exclusive interview with GCN, May 1, Commissioner Dale said, “The governor called me before the deadline and encouraged me to run as a Republican and pretty well assured me that I would not have any opposition. I told him I appreciated that very much but I wanted to go out the way I came in… as a Democrat.”
According to Dale, Governor Haley Barbour was not the only party leader to phone to encourage a run; Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman, Wayne Dowdy, also phoned before the deadline expressing a desire for Dale to run as a Democrat.
GCN’s efforts to reach Dowdy for direct comment were unsuccessful.
Charges of disloyalty to the party are said to stem from a position Dale took at the Nebosha County Fair in 2004. While making a public speech, Dale announced he was going to vote for George W. Bush. Dale explained the county fair incident this way saying:
“I have not endorsed any Republicans. The speech I made at the Nebosha County Fair was on patriotism; I gave figures on how less and less people vote. I said that I was going to vote for the president because I did not agree with John Kerry’s positions on gay marriage and abortion. I never campaigned for anyone- in fact, I was asked to head up the Democrats for Bush Committee and I declined.
“100 Democrats- office holders- stood on the steps of the Capitol and identified themselves as Democrats for Bush. I was not one of them. Every one of them was certified by the Democratic Party. Why did they not certify me?”
Two more reasons just might have been Dale’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage- hot buttons for the party’s Left. Only one hot button is needed to lose party support; just ask Connecticut’s U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman. He was forced to run as an Independent back in 2006 when he failed to garner enough votes in the state primary.
Lieberman’s offense? He supports the war in Iraq- a big no-no.
The opposition to Dale, however, evidently came from the state party executive committee alone, not as an order from the Democrat National Committee (DNC.) An official from the Mississippi Democratic Party was quick to point that out to GCN.
Still, this call to oust Dale is an embarrassment for the Democrats and it is not surprising that the party has backpedaled on the issue. On April 27th, Democrat Party attorney Willie Griffin admitted to Judge Lackey that the refusal to certify Dale was a mistake and that Dale would be put on the primary ballot for August 7th.
The Times Picayune has reported Griffin admitting in a lawyerly way that the party had done something “improper” and that the party had confessed as much to the court but that Dale is not willing to accept (read forgive) that confession.
“We felt that we had met all the criteria of the law to be certified as a Democrat. They chose not to certify me now they are coming back and saying oh, excuse me, we will. But the damage has been done and should I not have some relief from that damage?”
While Dale is confident that he will be able to run, at least one political website is branding Dale either a Republican or Independent candidate.
The decision to certify Dale after the fact suggests that the Democrat Executive Committee is feeling some heat over their vote and reinstating Dale tosses the matter over to the primary voters where, just like Lieberman, Dale’s candidacy can be decided.
Party Before People
Democrats are not alone in being dissatisfied with office holders who often vote with the opposing party. Republicans brand their’s as RINOs- Republicans In Name Only. However, refusing to certify Dale brings dissatisfaction to a whole new level of meaning.
As the longest serving insurance commissioner in the country, Dale’s experience and Rolodex is beyond peer. To refuse to certify Dale, particularly after the filing deadline, the Democratic Executive Committee has telegraphed the message party loyalty is more important than competence on the job.
For all of the criticism that Dale is an insurance industry “lackey” the defense remains that Mississippi’s current insurance crisis is not something to be solved by amateurs. To put it mildly, George Dale is an insurance nerd. He has been Mississippi’s Insurance Commissioner since 1975 and though a politician, he is uncommonly plain spoken.
Dale told GCN that the greatest challenge he, or anyone that would serve as the next commissioner, is to “coax insurance companies back into the state.”
Should the courts deem that he can run, Dale’s chief Democrat opponent will be Gary Anderson, formerly a Chief Fiscal Officer under Governor Ronnie Musgrove. Anderson’s website states that one of the reasons he wants to be the next insurance commissioner is to “bring balance and pride back to that office.”
A better reason might be to reconstruct Mississippi’s insurance market so that home and business owners can get affordable insurance protection. To do that, the next commissioner, be it Dale or someone else, must have a very deep understanding of insurance so that they may convince insurance companies that they can profitably write insurance in a post Katrina Gulf Coast.
The appearance in this dismissal of Dale is that the Democrats put party politics above the needs of the people. While Anderson does have a finance background, he is a neophyte to insurance and insurance regulations
How can adequate profits be an issue when insurance companies announced record profits in 2006, the year immediately following Katrina?
According to Dale, 2006 was indeed collectively a very profitable year for insurance companies because the state with the greatest losses was Indiana, not Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama.
“In 2005, the industry paid out $61.9 billion and in 2006, $8.8 billion. Let’s just hope that one of the inland states leads the industry in losses for 2007.”
The reason Dale hopes an inland state will lead the nation in losses is not to wish evil away from Mississippi and on to someone else. The reason is to have data to support actuarial tables that lower the risk assigned to hurricanes. Lower risk leads directly to lower insurance costs.
The worst hurricanes in U.S. history occurred between August 2004 and October 2005. The more years between major storm events, the better insurance wise it will be for the consumer.
“Despite all that (the peak in storms) South Miami Beach has on the drawing boards 15 new condos with the cheapest unit prices at $940 thousand dollars,” said Dale. “They never checked to see if they could get insurance for them.”
Florida’s insurance situation worsened after Hurricane Andrew and efforts to bully the industry resulted in insurance companies refusing to write new policies. An attempt by Florida to form its own state-owned insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance, has been fraught with problems including massive premium increases.
On the Mississippi Coast, prospective home buyers have found insurance premiums can easily match the mortgage payment itself, resulting in an almost dead halt to home sales.
Even on the Gulf Coast, condo building has also worked to ratchet up insurance costs because it results in increased population density. The move to large condos was because large buildings are assumed to be able to weather storms better. However, they also dramatically increase the population that will find itself in the crosshairs of the major storm. Ergo, insurance company payouts will also be much higher.
Dale sees the reforms needed to make insurance available and affordable is an increase in the Federal flood insurance cap from $250 thousand to $500 thousand and to redraw long outdated Federal flood maps.
When asked if he would like to see the flood plain line placed somewhere north of the CSX railroad tracks, Dale stated, “Yes I would.”
Dale sees the post Katrina situation in Mississippi different than most of his critics.
“… For Katrina, there has been more Federal aid than all of the aid for 9-11 attacks in 2000, 2004’s four hurricanes, the California earthquake and Hurricane Andrew combined.”
The problem with Federal claims to have pumped money into the Coast’s recovery is that much of the money has yet to hit the ground.
When directly asked if he supported Federal regulation of the insurance industry Dale answered, “No. Who regulates FEMA? We cannot overlook the fact that this was the largest natural disaster to hit the Unites States in its history. To blame all of the problems on insurance is not fair. Insurance had plenty of problems, made plenty of mistakes, and are still making mistakes- but so has everybody else simply because of the size of this storm.”
About the Author.....
Perry Hicks is a former Mississippi Coast resident and was a correspondent for the old Gulfport Star Journal. He has appeared on Fox News Channel. Perry has also hosted his own radio talk show on the auto industry with a mix of politics. Perry is a former college professor and is a senior writer for GCN on stories of national importance with local interests. His articles can be found in the GCN Archive