They say first impressions are the most important. I have to admit what I expected to see when Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara showed up at the local town hall meeting on fire insurance and what I saw did not exactly mesh, at least for me.
What I expected was a seasoned insurance man, in the know about the insurance business hardened by years of experience. What I saw was a handsome, strapping younger gentlemen, dressed in peg-legged jeans, cowboy boots and a Nehru type shirt, tight fitting around rather impressive biceps, all indicating this man spent at least some of his waking hours in the gym. Not exactly the fat old guy in a tie and suit that I expected.
Lara’s background as it turns out has little to do with experience in the insurance industry. Born in Commerce, California, Lara is the son of a formerly undocumented factory worker and seamstress from Mexico. Lara attended Los Angeles Unified School District schools and graduated from San Diego State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and served as student body president. He is currently pursuing a master's degree from the University of Southern California.
A longtime Assembly staffer, Lara worked as Chief of Staff to Assemblyman Marco Antonio Firebaugh (D–South Gate) when Firebaugh served as Majority Leader. Lara later served as Fabian Nuñez's district director during Nuñez's time as Speaker. He then served as communications director for Assemblyman Kevin de León (D–Los Angeles). (Wikipedia).
All this has to tell you something and you got the feeling he was to be protected and isolated the entire time he was there and he was.
From the onset, a celebrity like aura engulfed the building. Photo ops and handshakes occupied the first 15 minutes and after the obligatory thanks you and introductions from those that do such things, Lara took to the stage in front of a video screen that I imagined would act as a security blanket and guide all in one.
After all, it’s easier for the speaker and audience-distracting if they, the audience, have a TV to watch instead of focusing their entire attention on a speaker. It’ the reason I use no such visual complements when I speak. I WANT the complete attention of the audience.
Not one to jump to conclusions however, I let the cameras and microphones roll and sat back to see what nuggets of wisdom and subsequent action Lara was to bequeath to the room full of anxious homeowners and insurance professionals, dignitaries and wannabes that were in the packed house that was the Foothill Event Center on August 22, 2019.
He started out by what I perceived as a prepping us for a watered down presentation what was to follow by saying the department somewhat has its hands tied and “is trying” to get the insurance companies to do this and that.
Oh boy. Starting with the “poor us” theme didn’t instill a lot of confidence, at least in my mind, and probably a few others in the room as well.
Flipping from slide to slide, Lara attempted to instill some sort of rebound by illustrating some of the problems homeowners were having obtaining, keeping and paying for fire insurance.
Tell us something all of us in the room don’t know sir.
I have to admit I was somewhat taken in by his charm and good looks, as I’m sure others were, and gave him the benefit of the doubt that this was a sincere and caring man in front of me. That said, I caught myself shaking my head thinking “if this is our main defense against the huge conglomerates that are the insurance companies, we’re all screwed.
I kept thinking as the slides slipped by illustrating little but visual lip service, this vegetarian type of presentation resembled the Beyond Meat phenomenon. Beyond Meat is a company that makes vegetarian hamburgers that look and taste like meat but have no real meat in them.
Yea, the evening was kind of like that.
Lara dived into what I perceived as a less than critical “honey do’ list of things the department was trying to implement such as longer notification times for cancellations and such. I’m thinking “we all came tonight because insurance is so damned expensive, not because a 45 days’ notice is too difficult to understand.
You get what I’m saying here?
After an hour or so, and without questions, the commissioner left the stage and ended what was obviously a very well prepared presentation. In the old days it was known as the proverbial “dog and pony show”.
Hearing him speak and in speaking with him, I perceived mostly lip service, generalities and prepared responses to the same old questions he was hearing in the green rooms of the many such presentations he was giving on this road show.
After a few more smiling photo ops with those waiting in line to shake the hand of this handsome gent, Lara was whisked away in a waiting black SUV (yea I know) and in his place two topic knowledgeable non-politicians fielded handwritten and prepared questions taken earlier from the audience by staffers.
If there was meat in this dish, we got a taste of it from these two. For more than an hour, they answered honestly and diligently every question handed them, and it was here that we learned at a bit more about the department and its machinations that are taking place addressing this very serious issue.
I have to at least give the Department of Insurance (DOI) some credit for making the effort to address the fire insurance issue in California by these ongoing roadshows, if not really making a lot of real headway on the main issue of insurance costs, but holding the hands of nervous and concerned homeowners. In the final end however, when I think of whom I saw from the DOI at this town hall meeting, then picturing them going up against armies of Ivy League educated CEOs and VPs of huge and powerful conglomerate insurance companies, in reality these DOI folks don’t stand a snowballs chance in hell, or should I say our house’s chance of survival in an out of control wildfire.
Marc Cuniberti hosts “Money Matters” on KVMR FM aired on 66 radio stations nationwide. He is a financial columnist for a variety of publications. Marc holds a BA in Economics from SDU with honors 1979. His website is moneymanagementradio.com and he can be reached at (530) 559-1214. Visit him on Facebook (FB) under Marc Cuniberti and also on the "Money Matters” and “Money Matters Investing in Community" FB pages and You Tube. The views expressed are opinions only.