Bankole: Duggan, city Dems at odds on insurance reform
Mayor Mike Duggan has long built a reputation as a political bulldog — going back to his days in Wayne County government — who will stop at nothing until he accomplishes his goal.
That may explain why the mayor remains insistent on reforming the state’s no-fault auto insurance laws to help reduce rates for drivers in Detroit, even as critics of his three-tier proposal blast it as flawed.
But the problem the mayor’s facing regarding the insurance deal is not only about getting Republican lawmakers on board, but also convincing members of the Detroit Democratic delegation in Lansing to support his plan. He hasn’t succeeded in that. In fact, the majority of the delegation has balked at HB 5013, the insurance bill that is scheduled for a vote in the House by the end of the week.
Could their refusal to support the mayor’s plan on an issue that is at the heart of quality of life in Detroit be more about the relationship Duggan currently has with the delegation?
“The mayor has a close and productive relationship with members of the Detroit delegation,” Dave Massaron, a top aide to Duggan, said in an email. “The mayor regularly meets with individual members to discuss policy and legislative issues.”
Massaron said the “proposal that was ultimately introduced took several policy suggestions from members of the Detroit delegation.”
But the optimism expressed by the mayor’s office is a far cry from the views expressed by several delegation members.
“I was not involved from day one in the planning of this insurance proposal. I did meet with the mayor but the proposal had already been put together when we met,” said state Sen. Morris Hood. “The relationship between the mayor and the delegation can always be better. There is a lot of room for improvement for inclusion on other bills not just auto insurance.”
The proposal, Hood added, “was already set in stone when it was brought to us. It seems as if there is a conversation that takes place before a conversation with us.”
State Rep. LaTanya Garrett said: “As an urban city legislator I believe I /we are treated with great disdain in regards to being at the table in the planning stages of not just HB 5013 but most legislations.”
Garrett continued, “But I have personally had dialogue with the powers that be about possible amendments to improving HB 5013.”
State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, head of the delegation, said the only time she recalls meeting with the mayor or his aides is when the administration hits roadblocks in Lansing on hot button issues such as the Detroit Public Schools Community District.
Gay-Dagnogo, who sits on the House Insurance Committee, said if the administration had involved her from the beginning she could have supported the plan.
“I believe I would have been able to weigh in on the framing, challenges, and bring unlikely stakeholders to the table,” she said. “If all parties address systematic change to challenges unique to the city, while providing rate reductions, I would have been in a better position to support a collective plan.”
For Hood, the issue of collaboration with the mayor remains troubling though he said it is not just unique to Duggan. Previous administrations have operated in similar fashion.
“We understand that it is a Republican-controlled Legislature. But if we want other legislators to respect us how does it look when the mayor of our city is talking to them first?” Hood said. “But to be fair to the mayor, I served under Kwame Kilpatrick, Dave Bing and Ken Cockrel and it has been the same way and we’ve been trying to change that.”
Hood said he wants to work with the mayor but “if you want the support of the Detroit delegation you have to be inclusive. Everybody wants to have lower insurance rates but there are a lot of inconsistencies in the bill that may not add up to a savings.”
State Rep. Fred Durhal III said even though he thinks Duggan has done a good job as mayor, he fundamentally disagrees with his approach to reforming insurance.
“Although I think what the mayor is trying to do is very honorable and attacks one of the major issues facing Detroiters and our citizens in Michigan, the solution is very flawed,” Durhal said. “The limit of PIP (personal injury protection) benefits is something that I am opposed to, particularly when there is no true alternative to make up for the coverage (drivers) will lose.”
He said there is also no true guaranteed rate relief that would provide cost savings in his district for constituents who are struggling.
“Gap penalties for current uninsured drivers, questions such as a person’s credit score, highest level of education, gender, etc., need to be addressed,” Durhal said. “Detroiters have been paying outrageous rates for auto insurance for too long and it would be disingenuous for me to settle for a piece of legislation this early in the discussion that does not address those issues, when I know that a possibility of it improving can happen.”
Bob Berg, a longtime political observer and public relations executive who served as spokesman for former Mayor Coleman A. Young, said it is understandable why Duggan is reaching out to Republican legislators.
“Democrats controlled one or both of the chambers for much of the time Mayor Young was in office and the Detroit delegation was a significant component of those Democratic majorities,” Berg said. “Today Republicans have solid control of both the House and Senate.
“While it is always important to maintain a relationship with the Detroit delegation,” he added. “In a Legislature where both the House and Senate are overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans — and Detroit’s delegation is all Democrats — if you want to get legislation passed you are going to have to work with the party in power.”
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