Bankole: Auto insurance reform’s failure dings Duggan

Bankole Thompson

It was a campaign promise Mayor Mike Duggan boldly made four years ago — to be that leader who would make insurance redlining history — by reducing the high premiums Detroit drivers have been subjected to for many years.

At a town hall meeting at that time at Wayne County Community College District, Duggan talked extensively about how he planned to end the financial nightmare that residents were going through because of exorbitant rates.

Four years later, and on the eve of his re-election bid, Duggan has defaulted on that promissory note because he and Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard gave Detroiters a bad check in the form of deeply flawed reform legislation.

Late Thursday, the state Legislature in Lansing killed the reform bill that was supposed to be a bipartisan effort to address the reduction of rates across the board — not just in Detroit — by a 45-63 vote.

So, for the next four years, Detroiters will be digging deeper into their pockets to pay for auto insurance while their suburban counterparts are paying nearly half of those costs.

But if you are wondering why the insurance bill, HB 5013, was rejected, you need not look further than the strategy the mayor’s team applied in seeking what would have been a historic reform.

First, the mayor’s house was not in order. It was a house in chaos as the majority of the Detroit Democratic delegation in Lansing did not buy into the plan. Several of the members have said they did not feel their voices and input were incorporated in the proposal.

In fact, I was surprised when state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, the only member of the delegation who sits on the House Insurance Committee, told me the Duggan administration did not fully enlist her support on this legislation. According to Gay-Dagnogo, some of the vital recommendations she made did not make it into the bill.

It is true that Democrats don’t control the Legislature, and the mayor needed to reach out to the other party for support.

However, the mayor looks bad and comes off as having no influence whatsoever when members of his own party were not even backing his plan.

It appeared as if Duggan was more interested in scoring political points in a re-election season than working to cultivate the kinds of relationships and support needed for the insurance reform.

Duggan, who is politically savvy, knows that politics are about the art of compromise and building critical relationships. After all, what should matter is how to improve the quality of life for Detroiters.

The consequence of not doing so is to suffer the kind of embarrassing defeat we saw on Thursday.

In Lansing, every vote matters and every legislator has the right to question any legislation that may be deemed unfit for his or her constituents.

As such, one of the issues critics raised was that the savings promised in reducing rates were not guaranteed, thus making the effort appear like building castles up in the air.

Another issue was factors insurance companies use to set rates in Detroit, including credit scores. The bill provided no mechanism for dealing with that.

Some close to the process intimated that they felt Duggan and his team were adamant in moving ahead and ignoring legitimate objections about the bill.

If it was his “my way or the highway” of doing business, how could we expect to achieve a major reform? That may have worked in the past within Wayne County government, where Duggan once controlled the levers of power while serving as top deputy to influential Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara before eventually becoming the Wayne County prosecutor.

It was clear from day one when the mayor held a pageant-like press conference in Lansing and many of the city’s representatives were largely absent that the reform bill was doomed.

Did the mayor learn anything from Thursday’s defeat? He simply shrugged off the bill’s collapse as the work of special interest groups. That’s shifting blame and not owning up to other obvious shortcomings.

Regardless of who is elected mayor on Tuesday, that kind of governance style won’t help Detroiters.

Real leaders admit their mistakes, make insightful amends and offer a constructive and collaborative vision for the future. That is what the next four years should be about.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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