By Shad Powers, THE DESERT SUN
June 7, 2022
Incumbent California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara is facing eight challengers in Tuesday's primary.
The job requires the officeholder to thread the needle between working in the best interests of consumers and insurance companies at the same time.
The commissioner oversees the California Department of Insurance, which regulates the state's insurance industry, and the winning candidate will have a difficult balancing act, made even more difficult by the pandemic. The winner would have to potentially approve insurance rate hikes on one hand, but also be in a position to ensure that consumers are being treated fairly by insurance companies on the other.
Lara, a Democrat, was elected in 2018, and in doing so became the state of California's first openly gay statewide officeholder. The job pays about $174,843 a year.
The pandemic brought about unique challenges for the insurance commissioner. With many Californians not driving as much, there were fewer accident claims and Lara directed auto insurance companies to refund some of those premiums. According to CalMatters.org, customers were refunded more than $2.4 billion, but the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog estimates that California drivers are still owed $5.5 billion more. In October, Lara asked some of the state's largest auto insurers to provide detailed data on how they are going to pay back insurers or face legal action.
His primary challenger for the role in this election cycle is fellow Democrat Marc Levine, a member of the California State Assembly.
Levine has been aggressive in questioning Lara's stewardship, particularly that he is not doing enough for homeowners in wildfire areas, another crucial part of the Insurance Commissioner's role in this state.
Levine, whose campaign promises include barring companies from taking customers' education and occupation into account when pricing auto insurance coverages, has media endorsements from the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union-Tribune, San Jose Mercury News and the Sacramento Bee.
Lara, meanwhile has endorsements from the California Nurses Association, the California Democratic Party, California Environmental Voters, and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The rest of the field includes a pair of Republicans in businessman Greg Conlon and cybersecurity equipment manufacturer Robert Howell. Two more Democrats running are doctor and businessman Vinson Eugene Allen, and paralegal Jasper Jay Jackson.
The remaining three candidates are nurse Veronika Fimbres of the Green Party, teacher and union officer Nathalie Hriizi of the Peace & Freedom Party and health care advocate and businessman Robert J. Molnar, an independent.