August 06, 2003

So there's a story in the papers today (in the Chron and in the Statesman) about allegations that Farmer's Insurance paid off on claims for mold-related damage to State Rep. Joe Nixon's house even though his policy didn't cover it. The allegations, which came from leaked emails, say that the person in charge of mold coverage was getting pressure from her bosses to make the payments to Nixon because "he's a legislator" and they wanted to be friendly to him because of a bill he was sponsoring in the House on insurance reform. Nixon, for his part, denies any knowledge of what Farmer's may have thought it was doing.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Yeah, me too.

For what it's worth, I'm somewhat more inclined to believe Joe Nixon's claim of no involvement than I am of the claims of the Westar Five. Insurance reform was going to come up in this session no matter what was going on with him (unlike the Westar case, in which that company's pet Congressmen attempted to create a special exemption just for them), and it's easy for me to imagine the execs at Farmer's taking it on their own initiative to treat him as a "special" customer. I'm even inclined to believe that Nixon himself didn't think there was anything special about it.

Nixon said the ordeal cost him $50,000 for which he wasn't reimbursed, although he believed his homeowners policy was "supposed to cover all of it." According to the Harris County Appraisal District, Nixon's home has a market value of $369,500.

He wouldn't say how much Farmers paid altogether.

"If this was preferential treatment, I'd rather get hit over the head with a baseball bat," he said.

I'll wait and see what Ronnie Earle has to say about any wrongdoing before I get too indignant. But I will say this: The reason there's a knee-jerk tendency to get suspicious about things like this is because there's so damn many examples of it out there, all of which get dismissed with the same explanations ("I'd never do that", "There was no quid pro quo", "It's not my fault if they thought they could buy my influence", etc). We've come to expect it. Why should we be surprised by it?

By the way, Westar has now officially implemented its new policy of no corporate political donations. Let's hope that's the start of a trend.

UPDATE: KHOU-TV in Houston has an interview with Isabelle Arnold, the Farmers manager who received the email requesting that Nixon's mold claim be paid. She was later fired from Farmers and is now suing them for wrongful termination. There's a video clip that requires Real Player as well.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 06, 2003 to Scandalized! | TrackBack