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Some Democrats are licking their wounds from the no-fault insurance reform battle that came to an end recently. Others are crying foul that the reforms that are set to become law do not go far enough in addressing redlining in urban cities like Detroit, which for decades have carried the burden of high auto insurance premiums.

The complaints are growing louder each day since a compromised plan was announced last week between Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican legislative leaders.

But maybe if Democrats and their allies had banded together and put up a strong united front and argued their positions more strongly in the public domain, they could have gotten more out of the deal. After all, the fight for no-fault reform was also a public relations battle, and Democrats failed to marshal the kind of groundswell that would have forced lawmakers to listen to those who would be most affected by the changes.

It’s not enough to simply dismiss the reforms as another victory for the insurance industry. A cursory look at the reforms show it will ban insurance companies from using gender, marital status, education, home ownership, credit, profession and ZIP code to determine rates. But critics of the deal say insurance companies can still use geographical boundaries to determine rates, which in effect would amount to redlining.

Sending out a torrent of alarming emails to the media after a plan has already been hatched is like crying over spilled milk.

“Michigan was the only state in the country to give accident victims the ability to maintain the best possible quality of life, post-injury. These reforms decimate Michigan’s ability to remain the nation’s leader in the care and recovery of brain injury,” Tim Hoste, president of the Michigan Brain Injury Provider Council, fired off in a release last Friday.

But Hoste isn’t the only one concerned or upset about the reforms. There are others, including 15 Democrats who have equally stated their discontent about the details of the legislation that is currently before the governor.

The issue is that some of these voices were virtually non-existent during the debates about the reforms. I don’t recall receiving the emails that are now coming through my inbox raising Cain over the deal. 

The governor was virtually alone in arguing her case publicly, repeatedly warning Republicans that she won’t sign a reform that allows people to completely opt out of personal injury protection coverage. At the same time, state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo became almost the lone Democratic lawmaker who engineered public discussions about the reform including organizing a town hall meeting on the issue.

 Where were the others who are now expressing public discontent over the reform?

 Where were the community groups that are now concerned about the legislation that is set to become law?

Gay-Dagnogo isn’t the only one representing underserved communities in Lansing. If all 15 Democrats who voted against the reform and their allies had conducted a litany of town halls and public conversations around the issue before a compromise was reached, perhaps some of their issues could have been addressed in the legislation.

It matters when you choose to speak out about an issue. In this case, many Democrats and their allies missed the boat. 

Even when Detroit’s billionaire investor Dan Gilbert signaled that he would sponsor a petition drive to get the issue on the ballot, there were few Democrats willing to go on the record about the move. Again, only Gay-Dagnogo went public to describe the move as a way of boxing the governor in, something that Gilbert himself denied in my interview with him last week.

If the insurance reform was an Armageddon battle, Democrats and their traditional supporters did not act like it. Perhaps they forgot to take a page from the fight to repeal the Affordable Care Act. What has saved the law from being repealed are the town halls that were held across the nation, where members of Congress were warned by their constituents from both rural and urban centers that they would be voted out if they gut the law. 

 Why?

 The ACA is still saving lives.

 When the next legislative fight comes up in Lansing, hopefully Democrats can do more in arguing their case beyond expressing indignation after the issue has passed.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

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