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Bunner Quits as Insurance Commissioner

June 07, 1986|KENNETH REICH | Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian Friday announced the resignation of state Insurance Commissioner Bruce Bunner in a brief written statement that expressed no regrets and no compliments for Bunner's three years of service.

Appointed as Bunner's replacement was Roxani Gillespie, who has been serving as his chief deputy. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

The public announcement came one day after Bunner advocated at a news conference that the Legislature act quickly to give him power to compel the state's private insurance companies to sell liability insurance to local governments and others that have been unable to obtain it. A Deukmejian press spokesmen had quickly disassociated the governor from the commissioner's position, saying that Deukmejian was still studying the matter.

Bunner, reached at his Los Angeles office, said he had not been fired. He said he had told the governor "earlier this year" that he wished to return to private life before the November election. But he said that he had not been informed that the resignation would be announced Friday. His resignation is effective June 30.

Deukmejian's deputy press secretary, Kevin Brett, said Bunner had told the governor of his desire to leave in a conversation the two men had April 2.

The insurance commissioner said he was leaving with "mixed emotions" and an awareness that his recent move toward a more activist approach, advocating closer regulation of the insurance i1852077427from within the industry.

"A test of how well you're doing is if you're not making a lot of friends in the industry," Bunner declared. "Then, you're probably doing a few things right."

Expresses Loyalty

Bunner expressed loyalty to Deukmejian, but he also said he had made a number of policy recommendations to the governor that are still under review, including some that have not yet been made public, and that he is prepared to testify about his views to legislative bodies.

The sudden announcement of Bunner's resignation drew caustic statements from Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, the Democratic candidate opposing Deukmejian in November's gubernatorial election, as well as from a number of consumer spokesmen. They characterized Bunner's departure as a firing or at least as highly suspect.

Bradley declared:

"It's astounding that one day after the insurance commissioner unveiled a tough plan to crack down on insurance company abuse, Mr. Bunner finds himself out of work. It appears that George 1147499883pressure from the insurance industry, which has contributed over $700,000 to his campaign.

"For more than three years, Mr. Bunner did the bidding of the insurance industry as insurance rates soared out of sight. Yesterday, he had the courage to break with the industry and finally come out with a policy in favor of the consumer. For his courage, he is being kicked out of office."

'No Documentation'

Responding to this, Brett, the Deukmejian press secretary, declared:

"Once again, the mayor doesn't know what he's talking about. The mayor has absolutely no documentation to back up his groundless charges. Bruce Bunner, when he was appointed in March, 1983, indicated he would serve for two years and then return to the private sector. He has served for three years and is returning to the private sector."

Bunner said he does not know yet exactly what he will be doing, but he said he intends to return to the field of accounting. He added that he will not go to work in the insurance industry, as have many past insurance commissioners in both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The consumer organization spokesmen were as critical of Deukmejian's announcement as Bradley, or more so.

A spokesman for the Consumer's Union, Jim Shultz, declared:

"It's striking that within hours of the commissioner asking for more power to regulate insurers that the governor's response is the guillotine. . . . After years of criticism by consumer groups and the Legislature about the insurance commissioner being unwilling to stand up to the companies, the very moment that he shows a willingness to do so, he's not commissioner any more. It probably makes the insurance companies happy. Maybe, they're popping Champagne corks."

'It's Highly Unusual'

Walter Zelman, executive director of California Common Cause, said he does not know whether Bunner had resigned or had been fired. "But you can't help but note that as soon as Bunner began to become something of an activist and began to pressure the insurance companies to provide certain kinds of coverages to those affected by the insurance crisis, he's gone. . . . It's highly unusual, almost inconceivable, that a commissioner in such an important role would have taken such a highly visible and forcible step as commissioner only to resign the next day."

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