Eric Holl of Real Reform Louisiana

Eric Holl of Real Reform Louisiana protests outside LABI headquarters on Thursday, June 17, 2021.

It’s one of those heat-of-the-moment statements Louisiana Association of Business & Industry’s president Stephen Waguespack probably wishes he could take back.

But a year ago on June 17, 2020, conservative radio talk show host Erin McCarthy of KEEL 710 AM had challenged Waguespack over legislation, which eventually became law, that made it harder for individuals to sue companies in Louisiana courts.

So-called tort reform had long been a goal of the business community. They finally were successful by arguing that auto premiums would go down if Louisiana filed fewer lawsuits against insurance companies.

“Stephen, it’s got to guarantee that,” McCarthy said about the link between tort reform and lower-priced insurance.

“I’m just telling you it’s going to lower rates,” Waguespack said. “I’m telling you Erin, if we get past this and a year from now the rates aren’t down, I’ll be grabbing a tiki torch right with you going to the Capitol saying, ‘this didn’t work.’”

Auto insurance rates have been going up over the past year.

Even Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, who once defended auto insurance companies in court and has long advocated tort reform, recently acknowledged no auto insurer applied to lower rates.

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On the other side of the argument is a group called Real Reform Louisiana that remembered Waguespack’s boast and on the one-year anniversary of his statement brought tiki torches to LABI’s office in downtown Baton Rouge. “Big lobbyists make big promises that are never followed up,” said Eric Holl, the group’s executive director.

LABI’s receptionist took the torches.

Waguespack tried to divert attention by bringing up investigations into “staged wrecks” that milk insurance companies and that led to a new law making the scheme a crime. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a lawyer himself, signed the bill into law on Monday.

“The only real question is how many of their (Real Reform Louisiana) funders will get caught up in the scandal,” Waguespack texted.

No word on how he’ll use the tiki torches.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.