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Nancy Smith

Anitere Flores Pulled a Daphne Campbell, Should Relinquish her Senate B&I Chair

November 9, 2017 - 11:30am

Sen. Anitere Flores used her powerful position as chairwoman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee to request favors for her mother's Hurricane Irma-damaged property, including getting a Citizens Property Insurance claims adjuster to put her mother's claim ahead of policyholders with greater damage.

Flores denies she asked for special treatment from the insurer she claimed in August had lost the public's trust. 

I Beg to Differ

But sources in Tallahassee and Miami, who spoke to Sunshine State News on a condition of anonymity, say the Miami Republican exchanged texts and emails about her mother's insurance with two of Citizens top executives -- Christine Ashburn, chief of communications, legislative and external affairs; and Candace Bunker, manager of legislative and cabinet affairs.

Christine Ashburn
Christine Ashburn

"Plenty of us know Sen. Flores played the power card to take care of her mother," said a lobbyist with a prominent Tallahassee law firm last week. "But don't expect anybody to tell you on the record. This is a woman who has (Senate President) Joe Negron's ear and a high rank on committees we need to win over. This isn't a game we're playing here, this is the business we're in and Sen. Flores could and would bring the wrath of God down on us."

Asburn and Bunker have been unavailable to SSN for interview. The three sources besides the lobbyist who agreed to talk with us include a former lawmaker and a Capitol staffer. All relate surprisingly similar stories:

  • Before the Sept. 10 storm, as Irma was bearing down on Florida, Flores contacts Ashburn to discuss setting up a catch-up payment for her mother's lapsed property insurance. (There is no foul there: Citizens procedures allow any policyholder to make payment within 15 days after a policy expires and retain coverage. The policy is automatically reinstated with no loss of coverage. Any damage that occurs between the expiration date of the policy and policy reinstatement is covered.)
  • Instead of delivering the check to Citizens herself, the senator allows Ashburn to come fetch it from her.
  • Flores files a claim quickly on her mother's behalf, after which Bunker tells her a claims adjuster will be at her mother's home within 7-10 days.
  • Flores tells Bunker 7-10 days is unacceptable, that she wants an adjuster at her mother's home "within 24 hours."

The story is partly corroborated by public records SSN requested Oct. 13  and obtained from Citizens two days later. They were redacted, Citizens said, to comply with confidentiality provisions in s. 627.351(6)(x), Florida Statutes and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

The redactions are telling. The only reason to redact -- or black out -- information in these records is to keep "files" about a policyholder private. In other words, Flores was indeed discussing a policyholder, and she was doing it at the same time reflected on the dated texts/email.  The wording around the edges of the redactions connects the dots. (See Ashburn's texts and Bunker's email, and note the dates.)

I figured if my sources were wrong, and my understanding of Citizens' public records was cockeyed, Flores could settle it by coming clean, un-redacting her conversations with Christine Ashburn and Candice Bunker. So I asked her if she would  be willing to tell me what went on in those redacted conversations about her mom's policy/claim. Flores didn't respond personally, but her media consultant, Yohana de la Torre, did. "No," said de la Torre. "Senator will not tell you what went on in redacted conversations."

The Senate did not produce the Flores texts/emails I requested Oct. 13, nearly a month ago.  

Neither did Flores agree to a telephone interview. Instead, she said through de la Torre she would take my written questions. Here are the most important ones.

My question:  "Instead of delivering a check reinstating your mother's lapsed policy to Citizens -- did you have an employee come to your office at the Capitol to  pick up the check? Is that something the ordinary policyholder could expect of Citizens, or do you think it would be considered a special favor for the chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee?"

Flores' answer:  “Before the hurricane hit, I did not have an employee come to my office at the Capitol to pick up the check.  After the hurricane hit, a Citizens employee offered to come to the Capitol and pick up a check from me.  You would have to ask Citizens if this is something they would offer other policyholders.”

My question: Did you, when the hurricane was over, ask Citizens to send an adjuster to your mother's lightly damaged home, jumping her ahead of properties with more severe damage? 

Flores' answer:  "Absolutely not. After Hurricane Irma passed, I called the number on Citizens website to report a claim. I was told that an adjuster would be at the home within 7-10 days. The next day I received a call from a Citizens adjuster who told me the claim had been reassigned to him and he offered to come assess the damage that day.”

All Flores had to do to prove it -- to stop the rumors and shut someone like me up -- is release the texts and email, minus the redactions. She didn't do it.

Barbara Petersen
Barbara Petersen

The wall of secrecy in the Senate we hear about is real.

"Public officials should not hide behind the public records law to avoid accountability and oversight," said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. "And even though these records may be exempt when in the custody and control of citizens, a public official can clear up any misunderstandings by answering simple questions posed by a citizen or the media."

Daphne Campbell
Daphne Campbell

Remember Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami Beach? She tried to use her influence after Hurricane Irma to get FPL to jump her family to the top of the power restoration list -- and the media roasted her like a marshmallow.

The only real difference between Daphne Campbell and Anatere Flores is, Campbell is easier to bash when she steps out of line. She's a featherweight in comparison.  Who's afraid of a minority-party senator without a single leadership role? Republican Flores, on the other hand, is a teacher's pet, the Senate's president pro tempore, one of Senate President Joe Negron's "Chosen Few." She's on seven of the Senate's most important committees, chairman of two and vice chairman of one. She has enough power to break half of the hottest hotshots in Tallahassee like a matchstick.

Good soldier Michael Peltier, media relations manager at Citizens, says he doesn't think it's so unusual for executives to do special favors for policyholders.  

"Customer service is a top priority around here," Peltier chirped. "Most recently with Irma, there are countless individual examples of Citizens staff at all levels going the extra mile for customers" -- and he cited many of them. But, honestly: Raise your hand if you think Citizen' execs treat the average policyholder with a claim the same as the chairwoman of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee who has a claim. Do you really think Ashburn and Bunker were texting with average policyholders and rallying around the flag to collect their checks?

Sen. Flores just preyed on a company that pretty much operates at her mercy. She's Banking & Insurance Committee chairwoman, for Lord's sake, hostile to Citizens at every turn. At Citizens Property Insurance Corporation rate hearing in Miami Aug. 23, Flores argued against the insurer, saying “Citizens has unfairly raised insurance rates on policyholders since 2010, forcing my South Florida constituents to pay $700 million more in premiums than in actual claims since 2004.” 

So, I ask you, read around the redactions again. You actually think behind the happy birthday wishes and casual chat, Flores doesn't intimidate the pants off every man, woman and beast at Citizens -- especially the company's leadership?

Incidentally, I also asked Flores, "Was your mother offered coverage by several takeout insurance companies (as many as eight, I've been told), but you advised her to stay with Ciizens?"

The senator told me, "In 2015, I sponsored SB 1006 (which became HB 1087). This bill was designed to make the Citizens takeout process more consumer friendly, and ensure that takeout policies could not raise rates at a faster rate than Citizens could. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed this consumer-friendly bill that was passed unanimously by both chambers. Therefore, I advise anyone who contacts us about takeout offers to remain with Citizens, because Citizens has more stable rates and stability in the market. Unfortunately, I receive too many constituent complaints of how several takeout companies have folded after they took on Citizens policies, rates have gone up, and claims have not been paid.”

This seemed strange to me. The official state policy is to allow the private sector to work and reduce the state's insurance burden, yet the Senate Insurance Committee chairman is advising Floridians to stay in the company of last resort because it's subsidized by taxpayers. How conservative is that for a follow-my-lead Republican in a position of influence?

OK, Flores wanted to do something important for her mother, I get it. But by using her position to gain some special advantage -- at the very least, creating a perception that the state's insurers dance to her command -- particularly failing to be forthright with the public record ... there should be consequences.

After all the outrage over Daphne Campbell? Sen. Flores, carrying a dozen times the political heft of Campbell, should give up her presiding chair on the Banking & Insurance  Committee.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmithsunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLB Smith

 


READ MORE FROM SUNSHINE STATE NEWS

Backroom Briefing: Texts Light Up Controversy

Daphne Campbell Tries to Use FPL Connections to Restore Family's Power

 

Comments

Flores should concentrate all of her energy on her extramarital affair with Senator Braynon. The facts will come out soon enough. Time for damage control Flores.

this article is clearly biased.. and made to influence weak minds like the made hord mob of people who are chiming in with their imagined fury about some wrong doing. so now, if you're a politician.. and your mom's insurance claim is being delayed, you can't call for your mom and say "what the hell".. you have to sit back and twiddle your thumbs lest some ridiculous reporter write a little story about you? Kudos to Flores. If making a call and looking out for your mom is "south florida banana republic politics" i hope everyone in Floirda gets that bug.

It's called: "JUST WAIT YOUR TURN" "MOM": (Just like everybody else !)...

Just South Florida Hispanic politicians extending preferential treatment to Hispanics.... "NOTHING TO SEE HERE FOLKS, MOVE ALONG NOW !" {Anyone want to hear my "Two State solution" for Florida (with the "division" on Tampa's northern boundary) AGAIN ???

how incredibly racist of you

"Facts is facts !" (How incredibly naive of YOU !)

Great reporting....

When is someone going to report about her affair with Oscar Braynon? I wonder if her husband knows that she is cheating on him...

I'm sure he knows. It's a custom on their island.

mr. B - you're disgusting and racist and I'm so glad you have nothing to do with our industry anymore.

Excellent article. Flores is corrupt and should be investigated. Let's see if the prosecutors have the courage to investigate her for using her political power for her family's personal gain.

so she's corrupt because she wants to hold an insurance companies feet to the fire? you people are crazy

Thank you, Nancy...folks (taxpayers) have no idea what is being foisted on us in Tally. Do people realize that our reps & senators are passing legislation to protect the economy of Israel???? These reps get campaign donations and must cater to the special interests or not get elected. Flores has been dishonorable in allegedly seeking special treatment for her mother but isn't that what Tally is about? You media folks are our only avenue of info. Most of us don't have the time to watch on line and we rely on your!!! God bless!!

Reading this blog with more time I looked at the emails between the parties. I can understand redacting in case of state or national security, protecting something vital. But this? Why should an email between a cute girl and an insurance company be redacted?

a "cute girl".. i can't believe we're in 2017 and people still think it's ok to belittle a sitting Senator because of her gender. You people are really sad.

Get over yourself, AND your gender. [What are you, an employee of hers,...or one of her "campaign wonks"? ] Did she employ you because she couldn't find an American to do the job?

you’re not asking us to “read around the redactions”to the e-mail correspondence. You’re asking us to read INTO it. Nothing to see.

Damn if the girl doesn't look like that cute little package on Beverly Hills Pawn. You know, the one taking care of Osi. Unless Osi is queer. Getting harder to pick them out of the herd. Do you think maybe she sexually assaulted one of the Citizens people? You would think ALL these clowns would see the writing on the wall. if you are going to throw your weight around, make sure it is a fight you HAVE to win. Not bullshit like this.

thats nice. Some of us are STILL waiting for repairs. Typical Republican!

It would be interesting to know if there was an Irma claim and how much Citizens paid.

Typical of Flores' behavior, when it comes to special favors, which she used to provide prior to her being elected! Nonetheless, she's a liar, a politician, a liar, and should be run out of office! Where's Pam Bondi hiding? Whose desk in D.C. is she hiding under?

sexist and racist.. and disgusting.. you're a sad little man aren't you

Flores' answer: “Before the hurricane hit, I did not have an employee come to my office at the Capitol to pick up the check. After the hurricane hit, a Citizens employee offered to come to the Capitol and pick up a check from me. You would have to ask Citizens if this is something they would offer other policyholders.” The bigger issue here is this sounds like INSURANCE FRAUD to me......you don't have insurance BEFORE the storm hits....but you decide to PAY for it AFTER the storm hits according to the Senator's statement, that would sound like INSURANCE FRAUD to me.....but I'm NOT the Chairperson of the BANKING AND INSURANCE Senate Committee!!!

No wonder Citizens is a losing operation! Corrupt management, some employees, and politicians who continue to waste our unfair taxed dollars on a corrupted company!

Citizens is a losing operation because they have allowed defense attorneys (who bill by the hour) to run their claims operations and train their personnel so even the most obvious claims are disputed.. Barry Gilway just testified at the last Banking and Insurance Committee meeting last week that they spent 67 million in defense fees just in one year!!! hellooooo.. and you people are worried about a senator who made a call to her mother's insurance company and asked them not to take 10 days (ridiculous) to come out to her moms house after a hurricane? someone needs to get their priorities in order. If this story wasn't leaked by someone at Citizens who is attempting to undermine her authority, I don't know anything.

As the article says: "There is no foul there: Citizens procedures allow any policyholder to make payment within 15 days after a policy expires and retain coverage. The policy is automatically reinstated with no loss of coverage. Any damage that occurs between the expiration date of the policy and policy reinstatement is covered" Please read before you comment.

this is nothing new for Flores. She is old school South Florida Banana Republic politics. Sexual Harassment is wrong but abuse of power is ok in Tallahassee.

if looking out for one's mother is "old school south florida banana republic" (racist by the way)... then I hope everyone catches that bug.

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