Amid all the murky charges and countercharges Rick Scott and Charlie Crist are hurling at each other on TV, Crist is intent on informing voters about something clear and undisputable:
The property insurance industry much prefers Scott in the governor’s office over Crist, and Floridians paid lower property insurance bills when Crist was governor.
“The choice could not be more clear,” Crist said in a telephone press conference Thursday. “A governor who took on the insurance industry and lowered rates so families had more in their checking accounts and at the end of the month? Or a governor who let insurance companies raise rates — over 25 percent so the companies and his campaign have more in the bank?”
The former Republican governor noted that his first act in the office was to call a special legislative session to deal with property insurance bills that were skyrocketing after eight hurricanes in 2004 and 2005.
State leaders early in 2007 froze rates and expanded government-run Citizens Insurance to keep rates down — something the Scott campaign blasted Thursday even though Scott’s lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, supported it along with the state House led at the time by Marco Rubio.
“Florida taxpayers were left on the hook for billions and homeowners were left with fewer options to protect their property,” said Matt Moon, Scott’s campaign spokesman. “Under Gov. Scott, Florida has done the exact opposite, reforming and shrinking Citizens Insurance while giving consumers more choice and competition to protect their home.”
While critics and the insurance industry warned that Citizens had grown so big a serious hurricane would devastate the state’s finances, the storms never struck. Meanwhile, Gov. Scott and the legislature passed laws that made it easier for property insurers to raise rates and reduce coverage.
Average homeowner rates in Florida have risen from $1,544 when Scott took office to $1,933, twice the national average.
“Floridians are becoming defenseless against these huge companies that are just treating them as defenseless profit centers,” said Miami Beach Democrat Dan Gelber, who was Democratic leader in the Florida House when Crist was governor. “It’s no wonder these insurance companies, and others like utilities, are spending so much money to get Rick Scott reelected. It’s like having one of your own in the governor’s mansion.”
Steve Geller, the former Florida Senate Democratic leader under Gov. Crist, said insurance companies have enjoyed big savings and liability reductions but consumers have seen no savings.
“When the next hurricane hits Florida, and Floridians realize how bad the coverage has become despite increases in premiums I expect angry Floridians to march on Tallahassee, and they’ll be justified,” Geller said.
Insurance interests — including health and auto —- have contributed at least $2-million to Scott’s reelection, compared to about $72,000 to Crist.
Certainly Crist’s populist and often combative rhetoric when talking about insurance corporations or large utilities could not be more different from Scott’s approach.
When State Farm in 2009 threatened to pull out of the property insurance business in Florida largely because of Gov. Crist’s opposition to rate increases, he effectively said good riddance: “They probably charge the highest rates in the state anyway,’’ he said then. “Floridians will be much better off without them.
Scott brought up that incident out of the blue while campaigning in Tampa Bay this week.
“He goes out and attacks businesses, tells State Farm, good riddance,” Scott said on his campaign bus. “You want to tell people to not do business in your state? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Scott moments later touted his efforts to freeze and lower college tuition -- just as Crist did with insurance rates.
Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.