[As printed in the San Gabriel Valley Examiner, 9/14/06]


Unless Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante does the honorable thing, California's 
Department of Insurance will be a disaster for the next four years, and 
probably eight, run by a dot.com Republican or a termed-out Democrat.  In 
either case, the people of this state will be the losers.

Multi-millionaire Republican Steve Poizner won't represent the average 
Californian who struggles with high auto insurance and health care 
premiums.  He's more concerned with maintaining a healthy economic climate 
by cutting taxes that businesses pay on workers' comp. That, of course, 
means reducing benefits and making it harder for injured workers to qualify 
for them.  

Poizner believes that the "competitive free market" is the solution to our 
insurance woes.   Not surprisingly he's been endorsed by anti-regulation, 
anti-tax lobbies that have no interest in the welfare of insured 
Californians.  They see the job of commissioner as one in which business 
interests can be protected by concentrating on fighting both fraud and 
regulation.  They don't see insurance companies as a source of that fraud 
and abuse.

While he poses as an outsider, a non-politician, the only reason Poizner 
has never held office is that he lost an assembly race in 2004.  In fact, 
Poizner is a Chuck Quackenbush-in-waiting. He's the logical successor to 
that disgraced Republican insurance commissioner who had to resign some 
years ago after it was revealed that he played footsie with the industry he 
was supposed to regulate.

Nor does Democrat Bustamante have any particular interest in or 
qualifications for the office of insurance commissioner.  For that matter, 
he has no platform and has nothing to offer policyholders other than his 
belief that losing weight will cut health premiums.  He simply enjoys the 
perks of public service and wants to stay in office, taking advantage of 
incumbent commissioner John Garamendi's decision to run for Lt. Governor.  

Thus, those of us concerned about an insurance industry out of control see 
tough times ahead for the state's residents.

When California voters established the elected office of insurance 
commissioner in 1988 the initiative's advocates promised increased 
protection from a consumer-oriented regulator.  Instead, for nearly two 
decades we've been "protected" by political hacks who have either been very 
good at spinning news about their "accomplishments" or equally proficient 
at protecting the industry they were elected to oversee.  

While that leaves voters with little to choose from among the major party 
candidates in November, there are choices.

Fortunately, two candidates are committed to making the office one that 
truly regulates in the interest of the people of California.  Tom Condit, 
Peace and Freedom candidate, and Larry Cafiero, of the Green party, have 
detailed, informative platforms offering genuine reforms that benefit all 
Californians as workers, health care recipients and motorists.

Topping Condit's and Cafiero's list is a call to undo the phony workers 
comp reform pushed through by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and 
Democratic legislators.  It drastically reduced benefits for injured 
workers and passed the savings on to businesses and insurance companies.

Cafiero and Condit advocate a state-run health insurance plan, a once novel 
idea that works in Canada and is gaining support in the U.S. as employers 
drastically cut back on their contributions to health care.

Cafiero also favors an auto insurance reform that would automatically cover 
every car on the road in California through a pay-at-the-pump tax that 
would be more than offset by the elimination of the profit-making premiums 
collected by insurance companies.  

Under Cafiero's plan, uninsured motorists would disappear.  Every vehicle, 
whether driven by a licensed driver or an unlicensed illegal alien, would 
be automatically covered, the premiums paid each time the gas tank is 

But neither Condit nor Cafiero can win as long as Bustamante remains in the 
race.  The "straight party ticket" mentality of many voters will cause 
uninformed voters to cast their votes for Cruz despite his unworthiness.  
Labor unions and teachers' organizations will automatically endorse him and 
contribute funds because of his Democratic registration.

If Bustamante is truly committed to the people's interest, he could best 
demonstrate that commitment by withdrawing from the race in favor of a 
single candidate - either Condit or Cafiero.  Those two would then have to 
decide which one of them would join Bustamante on the sidelines.

In November, Californians concerned about protecting their future need to 
look beyond the candidates of the two old parties.  And one of those old 
parties needs to give way to the welfare of all Californians. 

- - -
[Ralph E. Shaffer, professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona, can be 
reached at reshaffer@csupomona.edu]