The race: Insurance commissioner: Whose ads? Democratic candidates Bill Press, John Garamendi and Conway Collis.
Press has a new 30-second commercial that attacks two leading opponents, Garamendi and Collis, as servants of special interests--Garamendi of insurers and Collis of corporate donors. Garamendi has a 30-second commercial that pledges to make every insurance company obey Proposition 103. Collis has a 30-second commercial that reports he scored highest on a Ralph Nader questionnaire of the insurance commissioner candidates.
Ad: Press' commercial declares, "As a state legislator, Garamendi took over $100,000 from the insurance industry. And now he's been endorsed by the insurance industry's lobby. As an elected official, Conway Collis took money from corporations and voted them millions in tax breaks. Maybe that's why the Democratic Party rejected them and endorsed Bill Press. . . . Bill Press. He's on our side."
Analysis: Garamendi has taken at least $123,000 in his 16 years in the Legislature from insurers, a little under $8,000 a year, but he has not taken anything from them since announcing for insurance commissioner, and he repudiated the endorsement of the legal reform group that Press is referring to here. That group, the Assn. for Tort Reform, has been accused of being a front for the industry but is not its major lobby. Collis, before 1986, did take thousands of dollars in contributions from corporations while occasionally voting as a State Board of Equalization member to allow them to pay less taxes than the board staff recommended. Since 1986, he says, he has changed his policy and will not vote on any matter relating to a party from which he has received a contribution. He acknowledges some oversights, but he maintains he has "learned" to be a better elected official in recent years. What Press does not say in these ads is that, much more than either Garamendi or Collis, he has raised money in the insurance commissioner's campaign from one of the major special interests in the insurance issue, the trial lawyers. Those contributions now amount to at least $273,500. Press does have the official endorsement of the Democratic Party.
Ad: Garamendi's commercial says that "Roxani Gillespie, the Republican insurance commissioner, exempted hundreds of companies from Prop. 103's requirement to lower insurance rates. We need an insurance commissioner who will fight for the people! Democratic Sen. John Garamendi! Sixteen years' experience standing up to big corporations." Garamendi then follows the announcer and says, "As insurance commissioner, I'll make every insurance company obey Proposition 103."
Analysis: Gillespie indicated last summer she would exempt hundreds of companies from Proposition 103 rollbacks, but later reversed herself and left the issue open. She has not yet made a single final decision on a rate rollback for any company. Garamendi, as a state senator, has earned a reputation for standing against many special interests, although he has also voted for many bills desired by corporations, as virtually all legislators have. The last sentence is a promise Garamendi has made in his campaign. He has repeatedly vowed to "clean up the insurance mess," language similar to that used by most of the other Democrats.
Ad: Collis' commercial starts with him reiterating that he would be the toughest enforcer of Proposition 103, but then an announcer declares: "We interrupt this message to bring you a special announcement. Ralph Nader has just announced the results of a consumer survey of candidates for insurance commissioner. In this survey, Conway Collis scored No. 1." That news is repeated four more times in the next few seconds, and Collis appears once more in the midst of the repeats saying, "I'll do whatever it takes to make 103 work."
Analysis: Collis scored highest, edging candidate Ray Bourhis, in answering a Nader questionnaire on policies he would follow as commissioner. But several other leading candidates, including Garamendi, Press, Walter Zelman and Republican Wes Bannister, refused to answer the questions on grounds that the survey was prepared to favor Collis. Nader has stopped short of endorsing Collis. As for making Proposition 103 "work," this may be more in the hands of the courts than the insurance commissioner.