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VOTER GUIDE | INSURANCE COMMISSIONER

Contest for Regulator's Post Is No Longer a Low-Profile Affair

October 15, 2006|Marc Lifsher | Times Staff Writer

The two major candidates running to be California's top insurance regulator each promise to be tough on insurance companies.

What's more, Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Republican Steve Poizner, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, say they don't want any campaign contributions from the industry they hope to oversee.

Poizner, who has put millions of dollars of his own money into the campaign, refused to take contributions from insurers.

And Bustamante, a career office holder from the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove, has caught flak for keeping tens of thousands of dollars worth of contributions from the insurance industry after promising to return all of the checks.

Bustamante in June said he would return the money because he didn't want to send "any mixed signals" to voters. Poizner, of Los Gatos, said, "A regulator has to be fiercely independent, totally financially independent."

The low-profile race is heating up.

Poizner pointed out that state campaign finance regulators hit Bustamante with a $263,000 fine in April 2004 for taking illegal contributions in his failed bid to replace recalled Gov. Gray Davis.

Bustamante accuses Poizner of indirectly taking insurance money through a 2005 initiative campaign he chaired. Poizner calls the charge "nonsense."

Meanwhile, Harvey Rosenfield, the consumer advocate who wrote Proposition 103, has endorsed Poizner because of his pledge to "fully enforce" the 17-year-old ballot measure that made insurance a highly regulated industry.

As commissioner, Poizner, 49, or Bustamante, 53, would oversee California's $120-billion insurance market and run the California Department of Insurance. It has 1,300 employees and a $197-million annual budget.

The commissioner earns $140,004 per year and serves for four years.

Besides the two major-party candidates, four other Californians are vying for the job: Jay E. Burden of the American Independent Party, Larry Cafiero of the Green Party, Tom Condit of the Peace and Freedom Party and Dale F. Ogden of the Libertarian Party.

Both Poizner and Bustamante say they back new car insurance regulations, approved by outgoing commissioner John Garamendi, who is running for lieutenant governor. The new regulations prohibit auto insurers from basing rates mainly on a policyholder's residential ZIP Code.

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marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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Begin text of infobox

Cruz Bustamante

Party: Democrat

Occupation: Lieutenant governor

Age: 53; born in Dinuba, Calif.

Residence: Elk Grove

Personal: Married; three daughters.

Education: Bachelor's degree, interdisciplinary studies, Cal State Fresno, 2003.

Career highlights: Assemblyman, 1993 to 1998; speaker of the Assembly, 1996 to 1998; lieutenant governor, 1999 to the present.

Platform: Lower auto and homeowner insurance rates; fight fraud; try to centralize regulation of workers' compensation and health insurance in the California Department of Insurance.

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Steve Poizner

Party: Republican

Occupation: Entrepreneur

Age: 49; born in Houston.

Residence: Los Gatos

Personal: Married; one daughter.

Education: Bachelor's degree, electrical engineering, University of Texas, 1978; master's degree in business administration, Stanford University, 1980.

Career highlights: Founder of Strategic Mapping Inc. and SnapTrack Inc., 1995 to 2000; White House fellow, 2000 to 2001; teacher, Mount Pleasant High School in San Jose, 2002 to 2003; co-chairman of the campaign for Proposition 77, a redistricting initiative effort, 2005.

Platform: Lower insurance rates for families and small businesses; make the office of insurance commissioner nonpartisan; prepare the state for a major disaster, such as an earthquake.

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