State Rep. Larry Taylor, at a legislative oversight hearing Thursday concerning the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, used the slur “Jew them down” when making the point that it needs to pay claims on time.
"Don't nitpick, don't try to Jew them down," he said, according to the Quorum Report. Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood who is running for a state Senate seat, quickly added, "That's probably a bad term."
In a written statement following the hearing, Taylor said, "At a legislative oversight committee hearing today, I inadvertently used a phrase that many people find offensive. I corrected myself immediately when I realized what I had said. I regret my poor choice of words and sincerely apologize for any harm they may have caused."
Alex Winslow, the executive director of Texas Watch, an advocacy organization for insurance customers, said he was aghast when he heard what Taylor said. “I agree with the sentiment that TWIA needs to pay claims on time and in full, but certainly don’t agree with his characterization or use of that offensive phrase,” he said.
Winslow was in the overflow room at the hearing when the statement was made and said no one on the committee addressed the comment.
Taylor, who co-chairs the Insurance Committee with state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, led the contentious negotiations during the special legislative session on how to reform TWIA, the quasi-public wind insurance agency for coastal Texans.
After Hurricane Ike, TWIA was bombarded with insurance claims and the agency’s poor handling of the disaster resulted in thousands of lawsuits. The expense ultimately fell on the state and lawmakers reformed TWIA’s claims process this past legislative session to reduce the number of expensive lawsuits in the future.
The new law exempts TWIA from insurance laws that govern free-market insurance agencies in Texas and creates a specific claim process for TWIA policyholders, which makes it difficult for disputed claims to become lawsuits.
Babe Schwartz, a former member of the Texas legislature and currently a registered lobbyist, said that as a lawyer, he believes TWIA claimants should have the same rights as any other client who buys an insurance policy in the free market — including the right to sue the insurance agency for poorly handling a claim. But even though Schwartz said he was on the other side of the debate, he commended Taylor and other lawmakers for their dedication to reforming the agency.
“They all were dedicated to the idea that TWIA was not doing a good job, not doing it fast enough and not doing it well enough,” he said Thursday. Taylor’s “attempts were all at trying to get the best settlements in the quickest manner that they could have been accomplished.”
Taylor’s remarks drew quick criticism from Democrat state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth.
Burnam, one of the most liberal legislators in the House, condemned the language in a statement. “If Larry were a state employee, he probably would have been fired today,” said Burnam. “Instead, Larry is asking Texas voters to give him a promotion to the Texas Senate.”
Burnam went on to condemn the Republican Party for tolerating the use of offensive language. He referenced a prayer vigil early this year held by Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, on the steps of the capitol. Amid an effort to oust the incumbent and first Jewish Speaker of the Texas House, Rep. Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, Simpson had beseeched the heavens to guide lawmakers to elect “a Godly, humble leader of the Texas House.”