INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: Philosophy Central To Campaign Messages
The race for state insurance commissioner pits two candidates with "sharply different pitches" against each another. The winner of the election would oversee "a 1,177-person state Department of Insurance that spends $127.5 million a year" approving rates and enforcing regulations for "property, casualty, life and health insurance." The Sacramento Bee reports that incumbent Chuck Quackenbush (R) "said fostering a free market is the best way to promote competition and force down prices" in the state's insurance industry. "As long as you have competition in the marketplace, prices will go down and quality will go up," he said. But his challenger, state Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D- Monterey Park), believes in "strong controls imposed on the industry," and "characterizes her candidacy as an antidote to lax oversight by Quackenbush." She said, "I will be your insurance commissioner ... not the insurance companies'. I will continue to lead the fight for California consumers." Calling herself "the woman the insurance companies fear the most," she wants to expand state oversight of health coverage by shifting HMO regulation from the state Department of Corporations to the state Insurance Department. "By having [HMOs] under an elected position, you'll have more accountability," she said. Endorsing Martinez's candidacy, Gina Calabrese of the Proposition 103 Enforcement Project said, "Our position is that the insurance commissioner's job is to regulate. A pure free market approach is inconsistent with the job of regulator." Prop. 103 changed the post of insurance commissioner from an appointed position to an elected one.
The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
Quackenbush has also been criticized for taking contributions from the insurance industry. "I believe the insurance commissioner's job is primarily judicial and taking money from an interest for whom you may have to decide a rate increase or decrease is wrong," said Martinez. Quackenbush downplayed the allegations, saying, "Anyone who thinks these contributions had a sway on me ought to look at the record of fines my administration has imposed," an amount he said was five times that of his predecessor, John Garamendi (D). Polls currently show Quackenbush with a 12-point lead -- 43% to 31% -- but industry observers "say it's too early to predict who will win the job" (Young, 10/19). Click here to read a San Francisco Chronicle editorial endorsing Martinez.