Bill Whalen

Steve Poizner adds some spice to 2018 election

Steve Poizner delivers his concession speech on June 8, 2010, in Irvine after losing his bid for governor. He’s running again for insurance commissioner, this time as a no party preference candidate.
Steve Poizner delivers his concession speech on June 8, 2010, in Irvine after losing his bid for governor. He’s running again for insurance commissioner, this time as a no party preference candidate. AP file

Rather than more idle speculation over who will be the next governor of California, let’s look at an office further down the ladder – state insurance commissioner.

Steve Poizner, who held the office for one term before an ill-fated gubernatorial run in 2010, announced this week that he’s running for his old job. Here’s why that’s notable.


Poizner has re-registered as “no party preference” (NPP, for short). He’s no longer a Republican, though he’s still the answer to the trivia question: Who is the only GOP candidate, other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, to win a statewide race in California this century?

Does that make Poizner an opportunist? “Realist” may be more appropriate. (Full disclosure: I was a paid adviser to Poizner when he first ventured into politics but am not on his payroll now)

Poizner could try to win the traditional way: Collect 90 percent of the Republican vote, then amass a majority of NPPs to offset the Democratic advantage in voter registration.

That worked for him in 2006. It won’t in 2018. In those 12 years, Republican registration has dropped by nearly 370,000 voters. And good luck getting a heavy GOP turnout if only Democrats are at the top of the ticket in the races for governor and U.S. Senate in November.

Meanwhile, no party preference ranks have grown by 1.3 million voters and are now 24.5 percent of the electorate (Democrats account for 45 percent, Republicans 26 percent).

My friend Dan Schnur, a USC professor and Republican-turned-NPP, put independent appeal to the test when he ran for secretary of state four years ago. Schnur was brimming with ideas, a champion of political reform and tailor-made for voters tired of the two parties’ extremes. But he was strapped for cash and couldn’t break through in a crowded primary field.

Poizner, a tech magnate, won’t lack the resources to get his name in front of voters if he’s willing to self-fund. So the question is: Can he survive this climate of shiv-wielding?

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the two principals in the governor’s race, seem destined for a general election clash over character. In the U.S. Senate race, can Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon resist bringing up Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s age? Will Feinstein delve into De Leon’s handling of legislative sexual misconduct?

Poizner likewise will be attacked, starting with his conservative stance on immigration in the 2010 gubernatorial primary and his distancing from the Trump presidency.

However, it would be a shame if the insurance commissioner’s race became a race to the bottom, because there are some weighty matters. My principal concerns: livability and affordability.

A state of 40 million residents, on the way to 50 million, must figure out where to house its people and how to provide mobility and sustenance. We must make California an affordable dream. (In Palo Alto, where I live, $15,000 monthly mortgage payments are not uncommon and median home sale prices reached a record $2.67 million last year.)

Insurance is part of that riddle. As more Californians move to parts of the state prone to natural disasters, how does state government work with private insurers already hostile to property owners – rate hikes for recent fires and mudslides, plus high rates for anticipated risks (the next big earthquake)?

If car thefts spiral, what happens to auto insurance? And what of that piddling little thing called health care insurance?

Having worked with Poizner, I can attest to his seriousness. We’ll see if voters will seriously entertain an independent candidate.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at