Monday, September 25, 2006

LAT State Insurance Regulatory Story Deeply Flawed

The New York Times on Sunday had an advertising section for its archives, now on sale to the public online back to 1851. The section began with a page from the paper of Sept. 24, 1851, long before Adolph Ochs bought the paper, and it had some of the great headlines of past years inside, such as the Titanic disaster and VJ Day.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times was proving that its institutional memory, its ability to bring back the past, has faded badly under repeated waves of employee buyouts.

The clear illustration pertained to insurance and its malevolent influence over state government. Here, on Page 1, was a long article by Sacramento reporter Peter Nicholas on the industry's strong grip on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his administration. In the Schwarzenegger Administration, the foxes are truly in the chichen coup, and all Californians suffer from it.

Fine, but both Nicholas and his editors seem to have forgotten that every Republican administration going back almost to King Canute has been under control of the insurance lobby.

The article never mentioned this record. It never recognized in short that there is really nothing new in a Republican governor knuckling under to the industry.

Also, Nicholas' article lacked other context. It never mentioned that, on the other side, the Trial Lawyers lobby has a strong grip over most Democrats. Democratic legislation, mostly vetoed by Schwarzenegger, is mentioned in the article, but the Trial Lawyers, who are probably just as malevolent as the insurance lobby, aren't brought into the equation. They are major contributors to Democrats, just as the insurance companies are to Republicans. Of course, they occasionally give across the partisan aisle, because they like to have their evil thongs into nearly everyone, but what is most important on this set of issues is the partisan divide.

Nicholas was probably a baby when all this became evident, and his editors, well when it comes to complex subjects like insurance and energy, they never escape babyhood.

But in the war of insurance initiatives, back in 1988, which I covered for the Times, it became evident that the public, and for that matter the knowledgeable press corps, recognized clearly that neither lobby had the public interest at heart.

That year, there was a healthy 'plague on both your houses,' view in the public and the press, and it was manifest on election day, when both the insurance industry and the lawyers' initiatives went down to solid defeats, and the only ballot measure adopted was the Rosenfield initiative. Harvey Rosenfield was somewhat under the thumb of the lawyers, but he was careful to say he opposed both sides, and he prevailed with a campaign that spent only a pittance of the money that the others spent. That was Proposition 103.

These are the facts, and the long Nicholas article today fails to discuss them. Both Nicholas and his editors need to go to school on California political history .

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