Most in poll want insurance chief out

Published on

Say Quackenbush should leave office in growing scandal

San Diego Union Tribune

SACRAMENTO — A majority of Californians have concluded that embattled Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush should be impeached, according to a new poll, the first to assess the damage of a scandal that has engulfed his office.

Revelations about the Republican regulator’s questionable dealings with insurers after the 1994 Northridge earthquake have scattered his supporters and scarred a once-promising public image, the new Field Poll found.

“The public has become very negative toward Quackenbush,” said Mark DiCamillo, the poll’s director. “Even before we introduced any of the investigations, you see a bipartisan negative appraisal of his job performance.”

The commissioner’s approval rating has slipped to 11 percent among registered voters, from a 39 percent rating measured in late October 1998, just before he was elected to a second term.

Most of those surveyed, 58 percent of the general public and 71 percent of the registered voters, said they were aware of the charges against Quackenbush. Even larger majorities — 79 percent of the overall public, 83 percent of registered voters, 88 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Republicans — described the charges as serious.

By a nearly 2-1 ratio, 50 percent to 29 percent, voters who had an opinion said Quackenbush should resign. Democrats backed resignation almost 3-to-1 — 57 percent to 21 percent. The question even carried a plurality with Republicans, with 43 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.

If Quackenbush refuses to resign, an even greater majority, 54 percent, said he should be impeached. Sixty-three percent of Democrats supported impeachment. Republicans also backed impeachment, with 44 percent in favor to 32 percent opposed.

DiCamillo said the stronger sentiment for impeachment may reflect a public desire to dig deeper into what went on inside the Department of Insurance.

“Maybe they don’t think everything is known yet, and so resignation is premature,” he said. “Impeachment proceedings literally are further investigations.”

It’s unknown what impact the numbers may have on Quackenbush‘s ability to hang on in the face of legislative investigations and an attorney general’s probe that is exploring potential criminal charges.

A knowledgeable Republican confirmed that others privately have been gauging the public’s reaction to the Quackenbush affair.

“It’s no surprise,” the source said of the Field Poll released today. “We’ve seen other polls, and they basically say the same thing.”

Republicans are becoming increasingly anxious about the potential political fallout, but so far have said they will give Quackenbush at least one more chance to respond to the charges.

The commissioner and a former top aide who is at the center of the controversy have been subpoenaed to appear before the Assembly Insurance Commission on Monday.

“We’ve set our course, we intend to complete it,” said Assemblyman Jack Scott, an Altadena Democrat who chairs the committee.

Quackenbush and his department have been accused of dropping a broad review of alleged industry misconduct in exchange for almost $13 million in contributions to foundations largely controlled by the department.

Nearly half of that money was quickly spent on television ads and other projects designed to raise Quackenbush‘s political profile. None of it so far has reached victims of the earthquake.

The Field Poll surveyed 533 adults starting on June 9, the day after Scott’s committee concluded three days of highly publicized hearings. The results have a 4.5 percent margin of error for the overall sample, and a 5.1 percent margin of error for 388 registered voters who were included.

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