CORPUS CHRISTI – At last week’s press conference to oppose Texas Windstorm Insurance Association’s (TWIA) proposed plan to raise rates on policyholders by 5%, outspoken District 32 State Rep.  Todd Hunter urged coastal community residents to attend the Dec. 10 meeting and said, “I want to give them a nice holiday greeting.”

And that they did.

Strange beginnings

At the opening of the TWIA board meeting held at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel on Tuesday, TWIA Board of Directors Chairman Bryan Shofner said, “I do want to thank all of you for coming today. I know some of you have traveled quite a ways and I do want to give everyone the appropriate appreciation for being here.

“So we are going to go through introductions. It is going to be a lengthy process, I understand that, but I do want to have a record of who all is here in the audience with us today.”

With an audible groan coming from the audience of nearly 200, not counting those that didn’t fit into the room, the microphone began making the rounds.

But the introductions didn’t last long.

“I’m Dan Hogan and I’m the 18th Precinct Republican Chairman of Nueces County and I’ve been screwed by TWIA before on an insurance claim they falsified,” Hogan quipped and was quickly followed by cheers and laughter from the attendees.

The intros were soon stopped completely by Corpus Christi resident James Fernandes when he said, “Mr. Chairman, this is a waste of time. You have a sign in sheet outside. Everybody knows who’s here.”

The crowd burst into cheers and applause.

“We know who’s here,” he continued. “People do have to go to work and we have to make a living so we can afford your rates.

“Can we please get the charades over with. This is the community and we’ve addressed it now.”

Fernandes passed the microphone back to the board and the regularly schedule meeting continued.

Almost 30 minutes later the first portion of the meeting was concluded it was time for public comment.

Size matters

As soon as the business duties were discussed, Shofner called for a 10 minute break to allow hotel staff to take down one of the walls in the room to fit everyone since there were still people standing outside the room and inside wherever they could fit so they could hear the meeting.

Then came the first outburst from another Corpus Christi resident holding a measuring tape who said he took off work to be there and wasn’t pleased with the size of the room.

“What I’m saying is you’ve got people outside that cannot come in and already missed out on everything,” he shouted from the crowd.

“You’ve got people leaving the place because they haven’t been able to find there way in here and that’s already unfair.

“I’m not speaking for myself, I’m speaking for everyone who wanted to be here but had to work!”

He would later interrupt once again during public comment.

Later on, State Rep. Todd Hunter would comment about the size of the room as well, knowing that if a meeting was being held in Corpus Christi, they should’ve expected hundreds of enraged residents.

“The TWIA board is here and last time I was here we started in the big room,” Hunter said. “Why did we start in the small room?”

The comment was met with thunderous cheers.

State Reps

After a few tense minutes of setting up – and an attendee hurling curse words at the board members for taking too long – the public comments finally began.

Shofner asked if the state representatives and city officials would begin so they could return to the various offices from which they came. 

Hunter lead the charge to yet another roar of cheers from the crowd as he rounded up the state leaders and headed to the podium.

State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, State Rep. District 34 Abel Herrero, State Rep. Dist. 30 Geanie Morrison and State Rep. Dist. 43 JM Lozano stood in line for their turn to speak.

State Rep. Dist. 23 Mayes Middleton began his public comment by telling the TWIA board, “I know it was a long drive down from Austin for you all so I thank y’all for coming. 

“Maybe we can make that drive easier someday by moving TWIA’s headquarters of the Gulf Coast.”

The attendees stood and cheered.

“So I believe that any rate increase today will be violating the law in a way that will help the insurance companies at the expense of our Gulf Coast residents,” Middleton continued.

“Even the TWIA Actuarial Committee voted unanimously a couple of weeks ago to study TWIA rates and the refinancing of the 8% high interest rate loans that you have along with reinsurance.

“That was that was unanimous vote.

TWIA is also paying far too much for reinsurance and bonds. The 8%, interest rate bonds are  25%. For premiums, which frankly, when you’re not paying those off early, that’s pervading policyholders

That’s exactly what that does is protecting insurance companies.  And TWIA themselves, Jerry Fadden said, ‘Well, I think we’re statutorily required to not pay them off early’ and then in a separate statement said, ‘I can’t find anything in the statute that will prevent us from doing that. 

“So which is it?”

When Hunter finally took the mic amongst thunderous applause, he turned his back to the board members, faced the crowd  and shouted, “This is called public comment. So I’m going to comment to the public.

After a few brief comments he turned to the board and said, “My message is a little different. Yes we don’t want a rate hike, but I’m going to call you all out and I want you to get legal counsel.

“To me, TWIA is disrespectful of the legislature. The Department of Insurance appoints you.

“And who oversees that department?

“The Texas legislature.

“And I want you, public, to hear what they said about us.”

Hunter said that some emails from TWIA revealed some “very vicious things” and false comments that he challenged the board to prove were true.

He went on to say that since the TWIA board meetings were subject to the Open Meeting and Open Records Act, he should have access to the emails which instead turned over to lawyers and eventually the attorney general.

Hunter has yet to see any of the requested documents.

He read one of the emails which complained about Hunter’s tactics saying he was simply firing up local residents ‘pandering to them.’

The email also read, “they are just trying to show off for their constituents and Hunter is leading the way.

“Yes I am!” Hunter exclaimed.

“You blew us off and you keep thanking us for being here and by the way TWIA there are other emails that you haven’t seen yet.

“Other derogatory comments were made about the legislature. I want these produced to everybody in the legislature.

“So you can either do it  or I’m sure, the journalists could use a peek.

“In my opinion they show no respect for the legislature who represents you. Keep your promise.

 “You said zero percent. You filed zero percent. You keep that promise.

“Ladies and gentleman, I’m proud to pander to you and to fire you up.”

Rate hike battle over ... for now

After the line of attendees waiting to make their comments dwindled down over the next few hours, the board finally voted on the 5% rate hike.

And they voted ‘No’ except for Tony Schrader, who was not present at the meeting but was able to be counted as he was on the phone during the entire meeting.

The board then voted for the Actuarial & Underwriting Committee to work with an independent actuarial firm not based in Texas, but from coastal areas of the U.S., to review TWIA’s rate analysis and prepare a report in support of the committee’s and the board’s annual rate review. 

They also wanted the work of the independent actuarial firm to be completed before TWIA considers its next statutorily required rate filing due  in August 2020.

The TWIA Board’s next quarterly meeting will be held in February 2020 in Austin.

So while the battle against TWIA was hard fought and won this week, the war is far from over.

Paul Gonzales is the editor at the News of San Patricio and can be reached at 361-364-1270 or at mathisnews@mySouTex.com.