Jim Beam column:Contributions buy results

Published 7:22 am Saturday, June 22, 2024

I have always been amused to hear politicians say that campaign contributions don’t influence the way they vote. Most of them say contributors simply want to be able to contact someone they know in government.

Republican Gov. Jeff Landry proved the fallacy of those arguments during  the recent legislative session and just days ago when he vetoed a bill that was considered “tort reform.” The Advocate in an Aug. 28, 2023, story about trial lawyers supporting Landry in last year’s gubernatorial election explained the meaning of tort reform.

The newspaper said, “Tort reformers say it’s so easy under current law for people to file lawsuits and claim big damage awards that companies invest less in the state to limit their legal exposure. That leads to less job creation, they say.”

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Landry vetoed House Bill 423, a bill that would have eliminated double payouts to the insured. During the session, Landry also insisted that legislators weaken several other pro-industry insurance bills that passed.

Will Green, the president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), was unhappy about Landry’s veto.

“While Gov. Landry could have provided a lifeline for all Louisianans currently drowning in an unaffordable market, he instead chose to stand with the trial bar and the status quo while businesses and citizens across the state scramble to pay yet another year of unsustainable premiums,” Green said in a statement.

The Advocate said Landry criticized insurance companies and their legal allies in the Legislature, “an apparent shot at the vetoed bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael Melerine, R-Shreveport, and his law partner, Sen. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport. They represent insurance companies.”

Melerine said, “The bill passed with bipartisan support and would have addressed the heart of the automobile insurance crisis.” The House vote was 88-10, and the Senate vote was 25-14. Southwest Louisiana’s four state senators and nine representatives voted for the bill.

The newspaper said, “Over the opposition of business lobbies and insurance companies, Landry also signed into law a bill supported by trial  lawyers that gives them two years, up from one, to file lawsuits after death or injury.”

Tim Temple, state insurance commissioner, urged Landry and legislative leaders to call a special session to pass another version of Melerine’s bill and another pro-industry measure that died during the regular legislative session.

Temple said,  “It is imperative that we prioritize starting the process of creating the competitive market our fellow citizens, business owners and truckers need and deserve.”

The Advocate said Landry was already facing criticism from his allies for appointing John Carmouche, a legal foe of petrochemical companies, to a plum seat on the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Like other politicians, Landry said his veto had nothing to do with the trial lawyers’ campaign contributions. He said they accounted for only 7% of his overall donations. However, as of last August, the groups supporting Landry had raised at least $700,000 from trial attorneys who normally support Democrats, which is a tidy sum.

The governor said insurance companies have won passage of 250 bills in Louisiana since 1994 and yet property and auto insurance rates continue to climb.

Glenn Armentor, a prominent Lafayette trial attorney, last August said, “He (Landry) gave me his word that he would be a friend to trial lawyers, and they would be a friend to him.”

Landry, Armentor added, “has been meeting with trial lawyer groups on a regular basis, saying, ‘I need you guys. You’re effective at campaigning.  But you really need me because LABI is a big enemy of trial lawyers.’ We believe that. We need Jeff, and he needs us. It’s a mutual thing.”

The Advocate last August reported that Baton Rouge businessman Lane Grigsby, who made a six-figure donation to Landry, “expressed little worry that Landry will side with trial lawyers.”

“I don’t believe Jeff will give up anything on tort issues,” Grigsby said. “He recognizes that Louisiana is among the leading states in lawsuit abuse. If a good tort reform hits his desk, it will be signed with fanfare.”

It didn’t happen and Landry worked in more ways than one during the recent legislative session to do as much as he could to give trial lawyers much more than the time of day.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than six decades. Contact him at 337-515-8871 or jim.beam.press@gmail.com.


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