What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Katrina Town Hall Reflected Selflessness of Gulf Coast

by Ana Maria

With standing room only in the large parish hall on top of a massive bluff overlooking the Bay which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) hosted the second town hall meeting with a delegation of plenty of congressional leadership from across the country. From as far west as California to the northeast of New Hampshire, Democratic Congressional representatives gave up time with their families and their constituents to revisit the Katrina-ravaged area. We were honored to have the high-ranking leadership of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Democratic Majority Whip Jim Clyburn from South Carolina.

Taylor told the overflowing crowd of Katrina-worn constituents that the multiple peril insurance bill almost didn’t make it out of its first subcommittee hearing, but that she personally talked with the Democratic members of the committee. Speaker Pelosi told her fellow Democrats that she had come to Katrina Land last year and promised to pass this important legislation. She kept her word as good leaders do. Taylor said that Congressman Mel Watt (D-SC) worked diligently on wavering Democrats to impress upon them the horrors of an insurance apparatus that is serving Americans quite badly.

Every Democratic member voted for the bill, and it passed without a single Republican vote.

When the bill was heard before the full Finance Committee, again the bill passed with every Democratic member voting for it and a few Republicans joining the Democratic leadership. In September, the bill will be up for a full vote in the entire House of Representatives when Congress returns in September. While we can pass this with only Democratic support in the House, the truth of the matter is that this is a non-partisan bill that will protect ALL Americans subject to the wind and water ravages that Mother Nature occasionally blows our way.

She—Mother Nature, that is—never asks us whether we are Republican or Democrat before she blows off our roof. Mother Nature never asks us which religious affiliation we may be before toppling trees onto our homes and businesses. Mother Nature never asks whether we are progressive or conservative, rich or poor, of this or the other ethnic background. No ma’am and no sir. All she does is do her thing leaving the rest of it up to us.

Five panelists regaled the congressional delegation and audience with one after another nightmare of dealing with Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. David Treutel, a third generation independent insurance agent and president of the family business and member of the Mississippi Wind Pool board of directors, spoke of the need for one policy for both wind and water. Treutel told of the despondency he saw in his clients who were exhausted from Katrina only to find themselves barraged with a claims adjuster for their cars, one for wind, one for homeowners, one for flood. Treutel recommended the bottom line for One policy. One adjuster.

Tish Haas Williams, Executive Director for the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the horror stories of how insurance has devastated the Coast’s (of Mississippi) ability to economically recover. She spoke of companies still paying on lost inventory that their insurance companies failed to cover even though businesses had paid insurance premiums for that purpose.

She spoke of insurance rates going up 600% and more, and how businesses cannot absorb these costs for less coverage with an ever-shrinking customer base. Of course, she reminded everyone that small business is the economic engine of the nation as well as for Hancock County.

Boy is she ever right about that.

Under President Bill Clinton, his administration expanded the number of jobs in our economy by over 20 million, primarily in the small business sector. The current guy occupying the White House is great at exporting our jobs to other countries. Maybe that’s what Bush did with his leadership responsibilities on our economic recovery here in Katrina Land. He must have outsourced them, because he and his administration have certainly turned a blind eye to the Katrina-Rita recovery needs.

Hancock Bank Chairman George Schloegel heads the largest bank in Mississippi. Joining the rest of the panelists, he also extolled the virtues of ONE policy for both wind and water. That’s right. A banker. Of course! No bank can lend money to customers to build without the accompanying insurance, which is a must. No loans, no business income. No business income, well, what’s the point?

Banks are not charities any more than grocery stores or car dealerships or the local pharmacy. Money is a prerequisite to keeping the doors open. Insurance is the prerequisite to opening the doors in the first place. That makes sense now, doesn’t it?

Mr. Schloegel brought the house down when he remarked that the insurance companies didn’t have to hire lawyers and haul us to court to get us to pay our premiums. Why should we have to hire lawyers and haul them to court to get them to pay on our wind policy claims?! Yes, as I said, this is a banker. He said that his own bank just up the road a few blocks has now been rebuilt. The insurance was astronomical and so they are going without it. However, it is but one building, and they have banks over four states or so which allows them to spread the risk throughout the company. A family has but one main asset—it’s home. They can’t afford to spread the risk. He, too, supported H.R. 3121—one policy for both wind and water and having the federal flood insurance policy expanded to cover windstorms.

Clearly the man who stole the evening’s show was Dr. McFarland. The elderly retired doctor told us that he lost his home to Katrina. Soon thereafter, he lost his job with NASA—I believe, and then the following June lost his wife. He said that he believes there is a message in everything and told God “I got the message.” We all laughed with him, perhaps, mostly because in spite of his tragedies, his sense of humor remained. Then again, so has that of the rest of the Gulf Coast area.

What I have heard, though, is that when his insurance company continued to deny payment on the wind policy, his wife ended up with a stroke and passed away. You see, the McFarland family like so many others here on the coast believe in the goodness and honesty of the people in their lives with whom they do business.

He said that the state insurance commissioner’s mediation program was a joke. Don’t do it. Hold on and hold out for everything owed. The sad irony is that Dr. McFarland was not one to go to court. In fact, he was not fond at all of folks suing. He supported what is known formally as tort
You know, curbing the ability for small potato type people like you and me to punish corporations, hospitals, doctors and the like for their negligent wrong doing.

So hiring one of the biggest lawyers around was not something uppermost in his mind. Here on the coast, just like in plenty of places across the country, most folks believe that if they themselves do right in their lives, others will do the same. Everything will work out just fine.

With this in mind, the good doctor always believed that his own insurance would, of course, pay what was owed. Nothing but a simple financial transaction. The doc paid his insurance premiums, and the insurance company would now pay on the insurance policy.

That isn’t what happened. He said that someone showed the insurance folks a picture of Parchment. For those outside of the area, Parchman is local lingo for the state prison that houses death row inmates. Here on the coast it is hot as hell in August and September. In Parchman, it’s simply hell.

Anyway, the doc said that after the folks at this insurance company, which I believe was State Farm, saw a picture of Parchman, he and the 600 other plaintiffs that were suing, got 100% settlement on their claims. Now, what I believe the doctor was referring to is the fact that his attorney, Dickey Scruggs of the Scruggs Katrina Group had filed a racketeering lawsuit against State Farm and the two engineering firms for allegedly

conspir[ing] to cheat policyholders out of rightful payments worth millions of dollars. They willfully caused victims of Hurricane Katrina extreme emotional and financial distress in their calculated strategy to falsify and conceal evidence, intimidate anyone who got in their way, and use their privileged position to pressure policyholders into accepting pitiful payments both before and during the mediation process."
The doctor’s prescription? Stay away from Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale’s mediation. Hold out for what is due. File a lawsuit if need be.

Not bad for a man previously adamantly opposed to lawsuits and lawyers protecting the little guy. As one businessman told me during the evening, he never thought he’d see the day when he’d be in a FEMA line with a bunch of rich folks. Just to be clear, however, the doctor also ended his insightful remarks with a message that all of us down here in this neck of the woods would like everyone to know. We’re not looking for a hand out. We’re just needing a hand to help us get back on our feet.

By the way, the McFarland case inspired the Rigsby sisters to blow the whistle on the insurance industry.

One last thing for today. As you may remember from my bio, I came here five months ago to surprise my family with a visit. I was the one who was surprised by the enormous devastation that remained everywhere I looked. So much needs doing right this very second. But what are the residents here pushing for most now? A single insurance policy for both wind and water that is available across the nation literally from sea to shining sea.

I have wondered of late, how this proposal will assist folks to get on their feet right now? When passed, the policy would not even be available until next June. The needs today are immense right now! What’s in it for them to be pushing a policy to help the rest of the country as well?

Last night as I was talking with my new friend Gary Anderson, the Democratic nominee for the state’s insurance commissioner, I posed the question. He said it will help in the future and help the entire country, not just here.

I thought to myself, “Are the humble, modest people that I grew up with in the place of my birth, the town where I was raised, are they really that selfless? Had my own sense of right and wrong, of social justice, of doing the right thing regardless of its difficulty come not only from my own family upbringing but also from the teeny tiny town as well?”

As if reading my mind, Gary looked down at me with that knowing smile of his and said, “Welcome home.” Isn’t that all any of us are looking for in life? A place where we feel at home?

That is the reason the H.R. 3121 is so important. When disaster strikes our homes and businesses, what we depend on for our financial security must be reliable so that we can get back to the business of our lives returning home at the end of the day to be with our families and friends.

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