Something's fishy in California
Proposition 33 is another attempt to circumvent the insurance reforms of Proposition 103
By Ellen Snortland 10/18/2012
Sniff, sniff, sniff … Ewwww. That’s the smell of Proposition 33, similar to the bottom of a dumpster near a California wharf on a hot, sunny day. What is Proposition 33? It appears to be the personal stinky mission of George Joseph, a gazillionaire, ranked as Forbes 392nd richest man in America, and chairman of insurance giant Mercury General Insurance. He’s privately bankrolling Proposition 33 with the lure of cheaper rates, using as bait those of us who, for whatever reason, have discontinued auto insurance coverage. Do not be reeled in!
A big fish in the big pond of California, Joseph is using all available media to fool you, including TV ads with employees from Mercury’s PR firm posing as “regular citizens” such as “real” drivers and college students. These people aren’t actual union actors, and they aren’t getting paid enough to qualify for the law compelling the company to reveal this deception (attention SAG-AFTRA!). And since he’s privately bankrolling the Proposition 33 campaign, you also won’t see “funded by Mercury Insurance” in the disclaimers, because he’s using his own treasure chest and doesn’t have to publicly reveal his identity. But if it looks like a fish, swims like a fish and smells like a fish, it’s Mr. Joseph!
Despite the deceptive trumpeting of Proposition 33’s so-called military exemption — a front and center feature of the measure’s pricey advertising — military folks will suffer if Proposition 33 passes, because it doesn’t cover spouses’ automobile insurance rates.
So, for example, let’s say you are a military spouse and your wife is deployed. She doesn’t need car insurance in Iraq. You and the kids move to San Francisco, or San Diego, or, yes, even Pasadena, where you happily use public transportation and discontinue your own car insurance. But then something changes, and now you need your own car again. Voila! If Proposition 33 passes, you, the non-serving military spouse will have a significant bump in your rates, as high as 40 percent. This blatant increase flies in the face of the popular and winning Proposition 103, 1988’s famous insurance rollback initiative, which specifically tied insurance increases to driving records, not ZIP codes or lack of prior coverage. This massive increase in insurance rates, on the other hand, wouldn’t occur for any reason other than you had previously discontinued the coverage, because you weren’t using a car and, therefore, didn’t need it!
And that’s just one aspect of the proposition. There are so many other ways this type of initiative burns me up. And I have some experience in this area. In the interest of full disclosure, I have been on the board of the organization Consumer Watchdog (formerly known as the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, the non-stickiest name ever) since 1985. We are squarely against Proposition 33 because we were the “drivers” behind the creation and passage of now-legendary Proposition 103. Passing that measure was an incredible achievement for the people of this state. We were outspent, out-advertised and were clearly not only watchdogs, but underdogs against the huge insurance industry. Ultimately, we won because we were on the side of fundamental fairness.
According to the Consumer Federation of America, we, the Consumer Watchdog folks and our respected Proposition 103, saved California drivers $62 billion on their car insurance between 1988 and 2008. That’s a lot of money!
But back to 2012 and Proposition 33. Every editorial board in California, except for the Orange County Register, has come out against it. That’s impressive opposition.
Nonetheless, Joseph, the heretofore mentioned moneybags behind Proposition 33, hates that you kept that insurance money and that he and his cronies at Mercury missed out on a chunk of that cash — HATES it.
Proposition 33 is yet another slimy attempt to circumvent Proposition 103. Does this remind you of anything? Oh yes, they tried in 2010 to ramrod Proposition 17 through, but voters didn’t buy it. Proposition 17 was another scheme to increase rates. Now they are trying to jack up rates again through Proposition 33 in order to grab more of your hard-earned money. How they do that is by giving “discounts” to new customers who switch to Mercury (or another company) from another insurer — at the cost of drivers who have to pay an increase because, for whatever reason, they stopped using car insurance and need to re-up. Yikes! Robbing Peter and Petra to pay Paul and Pauline. Or, in this case, George!
But why not send more cash into George’s pockets? It’s tough being only No. 392 on the Forbes list. I’m sure Mr. Joseph’s shame and embarrassment at this sad turn of events is boundless. And he wants all of us to fix it for him.
What about the conservative mantra of “smaller government” the right wing trots out at the drop of a hook? I guess it doesn’t apply to these folks, who want to use government ballot initiatives to line their own pockets. Smaller government, bigger wallets!
Force Mercury into retrograde! OK, a bad joke for you astrology fans, but seriously, Proposition 33 smells to high heaven like the rotten fish that it is. Throw it back.
Ellen teaches writing in Altadena. Contact her at snortland.com.