After close primary election, Ricardo Lara, Steve Poizner to bid for California insurance commissioner position

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California state Sen. Ricardo Lara and technology entrepreneur and former California insurance commissioner Steve Poizner will face off in the race for California insurance commissioner in November after the closest primary election for a statewide office this year.

In June, Poizner defeated Lara by half a point, earning 41 percent of the vote, while Lara drew 40.5 percent.

The insurance commissioner oversees the California Department of Insurance, or CDI. The CDI licenses insurance agents and brokers, enforces insurance laws, advocates for a legislative agenda and can determine whether rates being charged to consumers are unfair. The CDI is also charged with aspects of implementing the Affordable Care Act.

Poizner, who held the position as a Republican from 2007 to 2011, aims to take it back — but this time as an independent. If he wins, he will be the first independent to win statewide office. Lara, who has emphasized his legislative accomplishments throughout his campaign, would be the first openly gay statewide-elected official.

Lara was raised by Mexican immigrants in East Los Angeles, which he now represents as state senator for District 33. In 2012, Lara became the first openly gay person of color to be elected to the California State Senate. He recently chaired the influential Senate Appropriations Committee and notably authored the Health for All Kids Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2015, to extend Medi-Cal to undocumented children.

Lara is an advocate for single-payer health care in California and authored a bill that the state Senate approved in 2017 to establish such a system. The bill is stalled in the Assembly, but Lara’s bid for insurance commissioner has highlighted his continued support for universal health care.

“Every student is going to confront our broken healthcare system, where we overpay for the most basic care,” Lara said in an emailed statement. “I believe healthcare should be a right for everyone, which is why I will support universal coverage.”

Lara has centered his campaign on a progressive agenda and opposition to the Trump administration. His platform as described on his campaign site includes health care, education, the environment, LGBTQ+ equality and other progressive issues.

Lara has garnered endorsements from several of the best-known political actors in California, including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Poizner was born in Houston, Texas, and earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas and a master’s in business administration from Stanford University. Poizner went on to found several technology companies, one of which he sold for $1 billion in 2000, according to his campaign site. Poizner served as director of critical infrastructure protection on the National Security Council for the George W. Bush administration and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

In 2006, Poizner was elected California insurance commissioner. According to his campaign site, he worked with law enforcement to arrest more than 3,000 people for insurance fraud while he served as commissioner. During his term, he also oversaw significant cuts to the CDI budget. Poizner left his role as commissioner in 2011 after mounting an unsuccessful Republican bid for governor.

Poizner’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Poizner, with experience on his side, has focused his platform on fewer and more specific issues than Lara has. According to his campaign site, he hopes to continue to tackle fraud, improve disaster relief efforts, protect against cybercrime and oppose single-payer health care.

Poizner has been endorsed by many of California’s major newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee. According to his campaign site, every California newspaper that made an endorsement for insurance commissioner has endorsed him.

In an emailed statement, Lara emphasized the importance of the insurance commissioner position.

“The Insurance Commissioner will be at the forefront of every issue we face in the future, from climate change to cannabis to autonomous cars to universal healthcare,” Lara said in the emailed statement.

Contact Olivia Nouriani at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivianouriani.