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Best’s News & Research Service - June 03, 2022 10:18 AM (EDT)

Field of Nine Candidates Vying for California Insurance Commissioner Nod

SACRAMENTO, Calif. //BestWire// - Nine candidates — representing Democratic, Republican, Green and Socialist parties, as well as an unaffiliated candidate — are seeking the nomination for California insurance commissioner in the state’s June 7 open primary.

Ricardo Lara

Ricardo Lara

One of them, Democratic Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, is seeking to hold onto the seat he won for the first time in 2018.

Under California election law, all candidates for voter-nominated offices are listed on one ballot and only the top two vote-getters in the primary election — regardless of party preference — move on to the general election.

Lara finished second to independent former commissioner Steve Poizner in the 2018 primary but rebounded to win with 52.7% of the vote in the general election (BestWire, Nov. 26, 2018).

Lara led all the candidates in funds raised between Jan. 1-May 21 with more than $310,000, having about $232,000 on hand at that date, according to Department of State records.

But it was campaign funding that got Lara in trouble early in his term, when it was revealed his campaign accepted funds from individuals with ties to the insurance industry, and it continues to fuel his opponents’ claims they would not repeat his mistake of taking insurance money after promising not to take it (BestWire, Sept. 4, 2019). He subsequently suspended campaign fundraising for a period after returning the industry donations.

Democratic challenger Assemblyman Marc Levine has hammered Lara for taking campaign donations from insurers, calling his actions “disqualifying” and threatening public faith in the commissioner’s office.

Lara also has socialized and held closed-door meetings with industry officials, said Levine, who represents a Bay Area district. He promised to reject contributions from the individuals and businesses in insurance as well as related fields.

For his part, Lara has focused his campaign on his efforts to help consumers locked out of the insurance marketplace by wildfires, including imposing moratoriums on nonrenewals in fire-stricken areas, pushing for discounts for consumers who harden their homes from fires and expanding the FAIR plan.

He also has promoted his battle with automobile insurers to offer greater rebates to motorists who stayed off the streets in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. In another battle, Lara has fought property/casualty carriers that factor membership in various affinity groups in underwriting, saying the practice is discriminatory.

Levine agreed policy cancellations, hand-in-hand with rising premiums and increased fire risk, are the biggest challenges to California’s next insurance commissioner.

He said Lara’s policies make insurance more expensive for consumers, thereby making it more difficult to take preemptive measures. Consumers need better financial incentives to protect their communities, he added.

Further, Levine said he would prohibit nonrenewals of consumers whose circumstances have not changed, require his approval if they seek to reduce coverage in a geographical area and pledged other consumer protections.

Democrat Vinson Eugene Allen, a Los Angeles physician, focused on the insurance role in fighting wildfires. The state should leverage its budget surplus to provide expanded and streamlined existing fire prevention and vegetation management programs, he said.

In addition, he called for an audit by the California State Auditor to ensure homeowners insurance rates, which he said may have been artificially suppressed by Lara and his predecessor commissioner, Dave Jones, match the risk of wildfire, to ensure the availability of coverage.

Allen also wants to expand the California Department of Insurance’s investigative unit to fight organized crime, which he said is driving up rates because of theft.

Allen was second to Lara in donations accepted from Jan. 1-May 21, records show, having taken in more than $302,000 and reporting $69,316 on hand.

No other candidate was close to him or Lara in funds received since Jan. 1, records showed.

A fourth Democrat, Jasper “Jay” Jackson, provided a brief campaign pledge to protect consumers from “over-reaching” insurance companies; ensure there is affordable health coverage for all Californians; and to “stop insurance discrimination.”

Republican Greg Conlon touts his experience as a Certified Public Accountant, former member of the state Transportation Commission and former president of the California Public Utilities Commission.

He called for an audit to determine why California’s process for approving auto rate filings is longer than other states’. Conlon also wants to cut down on fraud caused by drivers in staged accidents, his web site said.

“Reagan Republican” Robert Howell, an electronics company owner, wants more equitable insurance rates, his website says. He too pledged not to take contributions from insurance-related interests.

Howell, it said, is concerned thousands of residents are fleeing the state due to the high cost of living and a broken, unresponsive state bureaucracy.

Securing universal, single-payer comprehensive health care is the main goal of Green Party candidate Veronika Fimbres. She said in a recent YouTube video she would not accept corporate money to support her candidacy.

Fimbres also said as a black transsexual woman, she wants to break the glass ceiling preventing women from attaining high office.

Socialist Party candidate Nathalie Hrizi also is demanding a Medicare-for-All health insurance system and “abolishing” health carriers. According to her website, Hrizi received 5.2% of the state vote for insurance commissioner in 2018.

Nonpartisan candidate Robert Molnar is a former health care advocate for the nonprofit Healthcare Consumer Rights Foundation. There, he said he helped California drivers and homeowners save almost $2 billion in lower insurance rates. According to his website, he also helped to recover an additional $30 million for wildfire victims from insurance companies; created the first-ever report card on health care companies; prosecuted health care providers for insurance fraud; and restored insurance for thousands of consumers after health carriers canceled their policies.

Molnar said he would use that experience to protect consumers and fight fraud and cybercrime while protecting taxpayer money.

(By Timothy Darragh, associate editor, BestWeek:

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