What if Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, surprised everyone and worked to ease the heavy burden for Louisianans who pay an average of $2,200 a year for auto insurance? In some places, like New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the average rates are more than $4,000 per year. Louisiana currently has the second-highest auto insurance premiums in the country.
What if Edwards went against the big-donor personal injury lawyers that got him elected to two terms as governor and signed meaningful tort reform legislation? It’s not as unlikely as it sounds.
Edwards must empathize with Louisiana drivers having to come up with so much money each year for insurance just to drive to and from work. Edwards must also understand the state’s flourishing personal injury lawyer industry is a big part of the problem. Based on billboard and television commercials, it can often feel like we have more personal injury lawyers than people in Louisiana. They are everywhere! And when they promise you those big checks, everyone knows someone will have to pay. Those big court cases or settlements come right out of the pockets of Louisiana drivers in the way of sky-high premiums. You’d have to suspend all common sense to believe meaningful tort reform would not make a big difference in lowering auto insurance premiums in the state. The legal system is clearly titled in favor of personal injury lawyers in Louisiana.
During his first term, Edwards, with help from his loyal accomplice, Republican-in-name-only and Senate President John Alario, loaded the Judiciary Committee with trial lawyers, blocking any meaningful tort reform legislation. Edwards must have known going against the very industry that financed his first term win meant it would not be there for him when he ran for a second term. Favoring his big donors over Louisiana drivers was smart politically. But a governor can only serve two terms. If Edwards goes against his big-money supporters by signing tort reform legislation now, what can they do about it?
It could hurt him if he were to run again for another office. But what could Edwards run for? It’s unlikely he could win a U.S. Senate seat. Conservative Louisianans would not likely send a Democrat to Washington D.C. as one of our two senators, where party affiliation is a much bigger deal than it is for governor. Edwards is unlikely to win a seat in Congress. Louisiana has only one congressional district that votes Democrat, and Edwards would have an almost impossible time unseating U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.
As far as Edwards having national political aspirations like former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, those also seem unlikely. Edwards' consistent pro-life record disqualifies him on the national stage with Democrats, where opposing abortion rights is a deal-killer.
So, what does Edwards have to lose? Why not go against his big-donor lawyer supporters? They won’t make as much and might have to sell one of their vacation homes, but think of the difference lower auto-insurance premiums would mean to a single mother trying to make ends meet. Tort reform will undoubtedly hurt television and billboard ad sales, but it should also bring more insurance companies to the state that now refuse to operate here because of our legal system, often described as a “judicial hellhole.” With more companies in the state, more competition will lead to lower premiums.
And Edwards may not have a choice but to support tort reform legislation. The conservative-dominated Legislature seems to have made tort reform a priority. Edwards could face a veto override on legislation unappealing to personal injury lawyers. That would be a worst-case scenario for the governor.
Edwards has said he isn’t “creating any red lines” about what sort of lawsuit limits he would oppose.
“I know that there is some movement, some compromise that’s possible, “said Edwards.
Personal injury lawyers have had it good for a long time, and Louisiana drivers have paid a heavy price for their extravagant lifestyles. Wouldn’t it be something if the man who signs legislation to end their gravy train is the very candidate they paid so much to get into office?
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.