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Florida's property insurance concerns reach presidential campaign trail

'Knock on wood? This isn't what we should be hearing from our leaders,' freshman Rep. Maxwell Frost says
Posted at 7:41 PM, Jul 13, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Is the next victim of Florida's property insurance crisis the governor's presidential bid? Some in Congress call Gov. Ron DeSantis' handling of the market "disqualifying," while political experts don't think the rest of the country will care.

The latest round of fear and frustration in the Sunshine State was set off Tuesday when Farmers Insurance said it would leave Florida, dropping about 100,000 of its Farmers-branded home, auto and umbrella policies. Questions about the insurance crisis are now reaching DeSantis on the presidential campaign trail.

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Conservative radio host Howie Carr asked Wednesday how DeSantis was handling things. The White House hopeful responded by saying recent reforms cutting incentives to sue insurers need more time to work, but he predicted Florida would see relief.

"It now is more economical for companies to come in. I think they are going to wait through this hurricane season," the governor said, adding later, "Knock on wood, we won't have a big storm this summer. Then I think you're going to start to see companies see an advantage."

Critics have condemned the governor for a weak response. That included those at the federal level.

"Knock on wood?" said freshman U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla. "This isn't what we should be hearing from our leaders."

Frost said Thursday that the governor's handling of the insurance crisis has been ineffective. He considered it disqualifying in a bid for president.

"Just hope that a hurricane doesn't come?" Frost asked. "That doesn't cut it. It's not enough and disqualifying as a leader. I'd say the same thing if he was a Democrat."

Rep. Maxwell Frost says Gov. Ron DeSantis should be disqualified from presidential bid
"Just hope that a hurricane doesn't come?" U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., asked. "That doesn't cut it. It's not enough and disqualifying as a leader. I'd say the same thing if he was a Democrat."

Political experts like Professor Sean Foreman said DeSantis inherited the problem and noted the reforms enacted were bipartisan. Plus, he said, voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, key states for the GOP nomination, likely don't care much about the Florida issue.

"It can be labeled as a giveaway to insurance companies, yet some companies are still leaving the state," the Barry University political expert said. "So, this is a policy area where opponents can try to cast DeSantis as a failure, but again, it may not matter much to voters in other states with more pressing policy concerns."

Add to that, State Farm, a competitor of Farmers, announced Thursday it was recommitting to Florida, citing the recent actions by the state Legislature, the governor's office confirmed.

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Meanwhile, back at home, Republicans like Florida's Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis continue to blame Farmers' financials for the departure. That's despite the company saying it was leaving to "effectively manage risk exposure."

"The Florida Legislature has worked really hard to create an environment that is bringing capital to the state," Patronis said after a roundtable discussion in Orlando. "Farmers at the corporate sea-level suites, they should be chastized, beat up. They're not really a good friend of the state of Florida right now."

Democrats in the Legislature don't accept that. They have called for further reforms like using state dollars to ease reinsurance costs. Some have even suggested another special session is needed, as others want a change of leadership eyeing the ballot box in 2024.

Another special session on property insurance this summer seems unlikely. The GOP majority thinks their reforms will work, and Democratic leadership has said there is no formal call to poll the legislature at this time.