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Election 2002

Democrats Leading in Race for Attorney General, Treasurer

John Garamendi is ahead in bid to regain post as insurance commissioner.

November 06, 2002|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

Democrats led in balloting for attorney general, lieutenant governor and most other down-ballot offices, while Republican Sen. Tom McClintock and wealthy Democratic businessman Steve Westly were locked in a tight race for controller.

A Democrat, Sen. Jack O'Connell of San Luis Obispo, opened a wide lead in the race for the nonpartisan post of superintendent of public instruction, and former Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, trying to mount a political comeback, was ahead in the contest for his old job.Democrats were confident that they would win most if not all so-called down-ballot statewide posts. If Republicans end up being shut out or nearly shut out, the GOP would have little choice but to look to an outsider such as actor Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for governor in four years.

"I'm gratified by the victory," Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said Tuesday night. "It is a victory for people who care about environmental protection, civil rights enforcement, and vigorous efforts to chase the energy gougers and other corporate miscreants."

Down-ballot offices attract relatively little public attention but control vast areas of state government. The attorney general has the power to bring consumer lawsuits on the state's behalf. The insurance commissioner has authority over insurance rates.

The posts also serve as steppingstones for higher office. Six of the last eight governors served as lieutenant governor, secretary of state or attorney general. Lockyer, Treasurer Phil Angelides and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante are contemplating running for governor in 2006.

In this election, Lockyer and Angelides were so confident of victory against their Republican foes, Sen. Dick Ackerman of Irvine and accountant Greg Conlon, that they barely campaigned. Socking away money for future statewide runs, Lockyer has $8.8 million in the bank and Angelides has $7.4 million.

Bustamante faced a more serious challenge from Sen. Bruce McPherson (R-Santa Cruz), and spent $2 million on his reelection.

Democrats' dominance is reflected by their campaign accounts. Democrats seeking seven statewide offices other than governor amassed a combined $20.2 million as of Oct. 19, the most recent filing. Republicans had $2.1 million. Those Democrats spent $23.5 million on their 2002 state campaigns. Republicans spent $5 million.

"Republicans have a history of starving down-ticket candidates," said Kevin Spillane, consultant to Republican attorney Gary Mendoza, who was trying to block former Insurance Commissioner Garamendi from regaining his job.

The state and national Republican Party did help Mendoza, a moderate Latino attorney, infusing his campaign with $1.2 million. Garamendi and Mendoza took no insurance industry donations. The last elected insurance commissioner, Republican Chuck Quackenbush, was forced to resign amid scandal.

The next commissioner will face significant problems. Many insurers refuse to write homeowners policies. Construction is being slowed as contractors are having a hard time getting coverage. Workers' compensation carriers are leaving the state.

Garamendi served as the state's first elected insurance commissioner, then failed in 1994 to win the Democratic nomination for governor. He had been out of politics in recent years.

The GOP gave six-figure donations to McPherson and former Assemblyman Keith Olberg, running for secretary of state against Assemblyman Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco).

Polls taken in the days before the balloting suggested that McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), running for state controller, had the best chance of winning. McClintock, who narrowly lost a race for controller in 1994, ran his campaign for slightly more than $1 million.

McClintock's opponent, Westly, is a wealthy former EBay executive and longtime Democratic Party activist. A first-time candidate who aspires to higher office, Westly spent more than $8 million to capture the seat, including $5 million of his own money.

Westly was not prepared to proclaim victory early today. But as the seesaw vote count shifted to his favor after midnight, Westly said, "It is looking great; we need to keep our fingers crossed."

Despite holding office off and on for 20 years, McClintock has few allies among fellow legislators. Viewed by lobbying groups as contentious, McClintock collected only a few thousand dollars from groups with issues pending in Sacramento.

O'Connell, a former high school teacher, built a significant lead in the race for superintendent of public instruction over Republican Katherine Smith, an Anaheim high school district board member. Supt. Delaine Eastin must retire because of term limits.

O'Connell raised $6 million, much of it from the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers. Smith raised $138,000, with half coming by way of a personal loan.

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