For insurance commissioner, Poizner with an asterisk

Steve Poizner
Steve Poizner hamezcua@sacbee.com

Steve Poizner was California’s insurance commissioner from 2007 to 2011, and he was a very good one. In a critical statewide job that balances consumer protection against the solvency of insurers, he stood up to big health and auto insurance companies that tried to gouge policyholders while making sure the industry stayed in the state and made enough profit to pay its claims.

A successful tech entrepreneur, Poizner was so professional in his management of the massive Department of Insurance that many Californians couldn’t tell what party he belonged to. And in fact, he often said that his should be a nonpartisan office. (We agree.)

Poizner has apologized for that 2010 campaign, saying that his judgment lapsed under pressure. In the 2016 GOP presidential primary, he supported John Kasich.

Then Poizner, a Republican, ran for governor. In the bruising 2010 primary, in a desperate effort to win anti-immigrant voters to the right of Meg Whitman, he went low. He ran a TV ad showing a car going over a cliff and suggested California’s recessionary woes were the result of illegal immigration. He supported policies that would have mandated proof of citizenship from school kids, and talked about sending the National Guard to the Mexican border.

The gambit stunned those who had known him as a socially moderate, fiscally conservative, reasonable person, and he justifiably lost the GOP nomination by some 900,000 votes to Whitman. Now he is back, running for insurance commissioner as an independent – and as odious as his campaign was, we endorse him with an asterisk because 2010 seems contrary to all his other behavior, and because he is by far the most qualified for the job.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, our second choice in the June 5 top-two primary, has solid experience as a state lawmaker representing Bell Gardens, but he is far too joyful a labor partisan to safeguard a balance between insurance corporations and the progressive agenda. His single-payer health care bill made a huge stir, but had no means to pay for itself.

Asif Mahmood, a Pakistani-born pulminologist from Pasadena, has an extraordinary life story and an understanding of the Affordable Care Act but little political experience. A Muslim, he says he was driven to run as a Democrat by President Donald Trump’s immigrant bashing.

Nathalie Hrizi, a San Francisco social justice teacher, is making her second run for the office on the Peace and Freedom ticket, and argues on her website that health insurance companies should be abolished.

The top two vote getters will be on the November ballot. Of the candidates (there are no Republicans) none is as equipped as Poizner to deal with the insurance market for a future of autonomous vehicles, soaring health care costs and climate-fueled wildfires.

Poizner has apologized for that 2010 campaign, saying he was under pressure and he believes immigrants should simply be put on “a path to documentation.” In the 2016 GOP presidential primary, he supported John Kasich. He must show he deserves a second chance.

But he and Lara both need to show they’ll be a commissioner for all Californians, whether consumers or insurers, natives or immigrants.