The Forgotten Constituents

By | March 11, 2002

Unaccustomed as I am to commenting here (and unaccustomed as you are to reading me here) I’ll start with a quick introduction. A reintroduction to those of you who’ve followed my 35-year career with the National Underwriter, most recently as Executive Editor & Publisher, then Executive Editor at Large. Last month, I took on a fresh and challenging assignment: heading up the editorial operation here at Insurance Journal.

Well, no sooner had I slipped into my new seat in the press box than I was thrown headlong into the crowded and contentious primary race for California insurance commissioner. The Golden State is one of only 12 U.S. venues to select its insurance regulators by popular ballot. What sets it apart from the other 11, of course, is that it’s the largest, arguably the most beset, insurance market in the nation.

On Tuesday March 5, California’s voters sifted through the credentials of no less than 11 candidates. By a landslide, they blessed the second coming of Democrat John Garamendi, the former insurance commissioner whose four-year turn in the post served as a springboard for a failed run at the governorship. They also gave the nod to Republican Gary Mendoza, a former state corporations commissioner, who barely survived a surprising eleventh-hour rally from unheralded insurance auditor Stefan Stitch.

Truth to tell, there was a twelfth presence in the primary battle: Chuck Quackenbush, the former commissioner who resigned the post in 2000. The odious debris from his scandal-ridden regime all but set the primary campaign agenda, which was all about consumers and integrity (big I), about protecting the policyholder, about cozy relations between regulator and regulated, and about palms greased with industry lucre.

That’s all well and good, but it shouldn’t just be about consumers as we move into the next phase of this campaign. Mr. Garamendi and Mr. Mendoza take note: There’s another constituency out there, the insurance industry, the vast majority of which comprises hard-working, professional, principled agents and brokers and companies whose serious, abundant and legitimate ills cry out for attention, in the public interest. They’re not mere political foils.

Moving forward, Garamendi and Mendoza need to present solid solutions to the state’s crises in workers’ compensation, private passenger auto, and general liability, to name a few. They need to show how they propose to work with the industry to make doing business in California more attractive to those companies compelled to leave the market in droves, an exodus which has unduly taxed state funds and which has driven the price of insurance in many lines through the roof.

We expect that between now and November the victors will move beyond the easy expediency of the pro-consumer, anti-Quackenbush campaigns they’ve just waged. Now it’s time for more serious debate on the other tough issues plaguing California’s turbulent insurance marketplace.

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Insurance Journal West March 11, 2002
March 11, 2002
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