| June 25, 2012 | 0 Comments

Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kitzman may have thought she had it tough in South Carolina – where she was fired by one governor before being hired by another, and then resigned six months later after a tumultuous tenure as head of the state’s budget board.

But that’s nothing compared to the firestorm brewing in the Lone Star State after Kitzman placed herself squarely in the middle of a long running feud between coastal lawmakers and a Panhandle legislator who has tried for years  to force residents and businesses along the coast to pay higher insurance rates.

The letter wasn’t the beginning of the controversy. In a recent address to a San Antonio conference of insurance agents, Kitzman said the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) problems were at the top of the department’s “to do” list and noted that in her 10 months on the job as insurance commissioners it’s been “all TWIA all the time.”

Ironically, the TWIA controversy it is the second windstorm bruhauhau that has landed Kitzman in the hot seat while serving as insurance commissioner in two separate states.  In 2007, she was fired as insurance commissioner over a controversial decision by the governor’s office to not expand the wind pool which left over 20,000 consumers without windstorm insurance.

Kitzman, a Texas native who was appointed by Governor Perry to the Texas Insurance post in August, may have not known what she was stepping into when she replied to a letter from John Smithee, the head of the House Insurance Committee, about the ability of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association being able to pay claims in case of a Category 4 hurricane.

Most analysts say the chances of a Category 4 hurricane hitting Texas are “remote” at best but that hasn’t stopped Smithee, who seems to be obsessed with hurricanes while ignoring the damages done by tornados and hailstorms in other regions of Texas, including his own.

The difference in catastrophic insurance around the state is that property owners who live in the interior of Texas still get their wind and hail insurance through private carriers despite the billions of dollars in damages done by hail and tornados each year.  Since 1971, following Hurricane Celia, property owners in the 14 counties bordering the Gulf of Mexico have had to count on the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association for wind and hail damage policies because private carriers refused to insure property there.

Kitzman , who is prone to what some Texans refer to  as  foot-in-mouth disease because of her South Carolina run-ins with legislators, told Smithee in a letter that the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association wouldn’t be able to pay potential policyholder claims in the event of a hurricane.

“If Texas were to experience a major hurricane or series of lesser windstorm events, TWIA’s maximum funding capacity would be insufficient to pay all potential policyholder claims on a full and/or timely basis,” Kitzman wrote in response to Smithee’s letter. Additionally, she said TWIA was not telling policy holders they might not get paid.

Kitzman has already faced criticism from many Texans for being too cozy with the insurance companies and neglecting to protect Texas consumers and policy holders.  In addition to being the former insurance commissioner in South Carolina, she also owned her own insurance company.

Those criticisms only increased after Kitzman removed a list of enforcement actions against insurance agents and companies who violate state laws from the agency website earlier this year. She reversed that decision this month after media complaints and a letter writing campaign orchestrated by the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Now Kitzman’s stormy relationships with legislatures may come back to haunt her if she isn’t able to walk the tightrope between Smithee and Coastal bend legislators like State Rep. Todd Hunter, the head of the Calendars Committee, Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, the vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and State Rep. JM Lozano, a Kingsville lawmaker whose current district includes more coastline than any other state representative..

Kitzman quit or was fired as South Carolina insurance commissioner in 2007 after a falling-out with then-Gov. Mark Sanford over coastal insurance.  She claims the governor failed to follow her advice to expand the wind pool, leaving thousands without windstorm coverage. Sanford blamed  Kitzman for the controversy.

In 2010, Kitzman later unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for South Carolina lieutenant governor in 2010 but the following year, after being appointed to head the state’s Budget and Control Board, she got into a stormy feud with South Carolina Ways and Means Committee chairman Daniel T. Cooper over how she was running the agency.

Kitzman wrote a letter to the editor defending her friend and mentor, Gov. Nikki Haley, and attacked a unnamed leader as “another middle-aged white man explaining how the real world works to an ethnic woman.”

Kitzman at least thought it was aimed at him and he didn’t take the criticism well.  He wrote Kitzman reminding her that as a member of the Budget Board he was one of her bosses and asked that she “refrain from making such comments in the future as I think they are highly inappropriate for someone in your position.”

For Kitzman those controversies could be small in a game that pits geographic regions of Texas against each other. And unfortunately for Kitzman, whose boots strap story should be an inspiration to all Texans, the windstorm issue could overshadow her personal and professional accomplishments.

In 1974, Kitzman, then a 18-year old high school dropout and single divorced mom with a one year old son  began working full time and went to school at night before going on to become a successful lawyer, business owner and political appointee.

In the South Carolina windstorm controversy, Kitzman says she prepared an expansive report dealing with the coastal insurance problem including the wind pool recommendation and even prepared legislation that would have moved the wind pool in line with economic  instead of political considerations.

Texas is a little more complicated and any plan should include solutions that include all Texans paying part of the bill for catastrophic insurance no matter where they live in the state and covering all disasters such as wind, fires, hurricanes, tornados or hail. Only time will tell whether Kitzman can pull a rabbit out the this hat – and keep the bunny from being blown into oblivion by a hurricane called the Texas Legislature.





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Category: Blog, Texas Windstorm


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