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Gatti, Milkovich betrayals perhaps last straw

The latest prank by northwest Louisiana’s Katzenjammer Kids, Republican state Sen. Ryan Gatti and Democrat state Sen. John Milkovich, may be the one that costs them their seats.

In many ways, the two differ only in party affiliation. Both narrowly defeated sitting representatives by pledging social conservatism and criticizing their opponents for tax increases, then launched their careers by supporting a tax-and-spend agenda in their first year in the Senate. Both try too hard to define themselves as social conservatives, with Milkovich espousing fringe ideas rejected by most conservatives and Gatti backing religious liberty policies that most conservatives think would backfire to erode that.

This overcompensation comes as a result of their center-left fiscal policy preferences. Through 2018, according to the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s legislative scorecard that focuses on government taxing and spending issues Gatti with a lifetime score of 52 has the third-lowest figure for Republicans while Milkovich at 41 has the third-highest among Democrats.

In terms of supporters, each draws (often from the same donors) from trial lawyers (which they are), regulated industries, and political action committees, although Milkovich gets additional backing from traditional Democrat special interests while Gatti corrals insiders from Bossier Parish politics. Each also is personally wealthy, which means they have plenty of dough to loan their campaigns; Gatti lent his campaign (only through 2018, as he curiously has not filed his required initial 2019 report yet) in the neighborhood of $400,000 of which he has repaid none, while Milkovich gave his campaign through 2018 around $175,000 of which he has repaid some and loaned a bit more in 2019.

They import such vast personal resources from insurance ratepayers. Both practicing personal injury law, they sue people and insurers using generous Louisiana tort law that has helped to produce the second-highest automobile insurance rates in the country, with rates 60 percent higher than the national average.

And last week, they used their elected offices to make sure the cash kept rolling in to them. They helped in a committee vote to stymie HB 372 by Republican state Rep. Kirk Talbot, which would have brought Louisiana tort statutes in line with those of most other states. Opponents – Gatti in particular – said the bill couldn’t guarantee lower rates and pointed to a fiscal note that said the state likely faced higher costs.

But Gatti, Milkovich, and others voting against the tort reform bill refused to acknowledge that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. We know that in a control group of states with longer prescriptive requirements, lower jury trial thresholds, and where the party at fault can’t be bypassed in a suit – all of which the bill advocated – that rates are much lower. Two plus two always equals four, which Gatti and Milkovich shamefully deny. And, it’s not important whether the state pays more under these changes, but that the people pay less; if rates fell just 10 percent (which would leave Louisiana still with the second-highest rates), Louisianans would save an incredible $663 million a year.

This betrayal of the people could culminate in one more shared attribute, as the final straw with voters in districts (Gatti with the bulk of constituents in northern Bossier Parish and Milkovich with his in southwestern Caddo and De Soto Parishes) that continue to attract higher-income refugees from Shreveport. A year ago Gatti drew as an opponent former oil company executive Republican Robert Mills, who in seven months raised over $163,000, while banking executive Republican Barry Milligan recently announced his challenge to Milkovich.

In districts becoming more conservative as time passes, this fall voters may punish the self-serving Gatti and Milkovich for their faux conservatism, with the fate of HB 372 illuminating the difference in representation they could expect with genuine full-spectrum conservatives in office.

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