Editorial Vote for Lara for insurance commissioner – InsuranceNewsNet

When we make an election endorsement, we hope to be able to say that the person we recommend would serve ably, ethically and responsibly. Neither candidate for state insurance commissioner passes that test.

The better pick in the Nov. 8 runoff is incumbent Ricardo Lara. But that’s only because the alternative, San Jose business owner Robert Howellis clueless about the job and would be an unmitigated disaster if elected.

This is a hold-your-nose recommendation because we feel obliged to offer voters some guidance as they pick between two horrible candidates.

Californians deserve better choices to lead the department of 1,400 employees responsible for overseeing health, auto and homeowner insurance rates — for regulating companies that collect more than $371 billion in premiums annually in California. The insurance commissioner probably impacts Californians’ lives more than any other statewide officeholder except governor.

As we said before the primary election, Lara’s term has been an embarrassment reminiscent of the ignominious tenure of Chuck Quackenbushthe insurance commissioner who resigned in 2000 amid allegations that he tried to extract settlements from title insurance companies to finance an advertising campaign that would benefit him politically.

Since that scandal, for nearly two decades California’s insurance commissioners turned away campaign contributions tied to the single industry they regulate — a recognition of the need for independent oversight untainted by political money.

Until Lara came along. After vowing not to accept industry money, he broke that promise in 2018 and then after his election quickly began raising more from those he regulates for this year’s campaign.

The San Diego Union Tribune calculated that Lara collected at least $270,000 from 56 people and companies with insurance industry ties. Meanwhile, senior Department of Insurance officials overturned administrative law judges at least five times, each time benefitting a company tied to some of the donors, the Union Tribune reported.

As a consumer watchdog group was suing Lara for records from communications within his office and with lobbyists representing key campaign donors, his agency last year suddenly adopted a policy of automatically deleting emails after six months. But after media scrutiny, the agency rescinded the policy in January.

It’s hard to imagine a candidate who could be worse. And then in walked Howell, who demonstrates little idea of ​​why he’s running or what the job of insurance commissioner entails. He was the most ill-prepared candidate for statewide office that we have encountered.

“What would I do as commissioner?” he responded echoing back our first question. He paused and then said “OK, that’s fair” as he seemed to be searching for an answer.

At one point, he finally said he would stop home insurance companies from charging more for coverage in fire-prone areas. And how would he do that? “Good question,” he replied. “The 1,400 people who work in the office, they ‘re supposed to know how to fix things. That’s what people in the trenches are for. They should do their job.”

Howell is the president and chief engineer of Exatron, a San Jose-equipment manufacturing firm with about 45 full-time employees. He managed to narrowly slip into the runoff with a second-place primary finish because four Democrats were on the ballot dividing their party’s votes while Howell was one of only two Republicans. He received 18.1% of the vote, edging out Assemblyman Marc LevineD-San Rafaelwho garnered 18.0%.

Had Levine made the runoff, this would have been an entirely different race — with a credible, ethical candidate on the ballot. Instead, Californians face an awful choice between Lara and Howell. Try not to gag as you cast your vote.

Bay Area News Group

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