Poizner to run for Calif. Insurance Commissioner

By Tom Chorneau | April 8, 2005

High-tech entrepreneur Steve Poizner, who spent $6 million of his own money in an unsuccessful bid for the state Assembly last fall, withdrew his appointment April 6 from the Public Utilities Commission and instead announced he will run for insurance commissioner.

The surprise move came after the billionaire Poizner ran into problems organizing his holdings so that he could sit on the utility board without conflict-of-interest issues. He said he sold all of his stock in companies regulated by the PUC in December, but could not similarly dispose of investments in a variety of private venture funds that have a far less defined market.

“I’m really disappointed, we tried very hard to get this done,” said Poizner, who was appointed to the PUC by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in December but has not been confirmed by the state Senate. “That’s why it took so long.”

Since selling his company four years ago, Poizner has participated in several areas of public service including as a White House fellow and later as a teacher in a low-income San Jose high school. The moderate Republican narrowly lost the Assembly race in November in a heavily Democratic district to Ira Ruskin, a liberal Democrat.

Poizner said he still wants to serve the public and has decided insurance commissioner fits his skills and experience. The election for the job is next year, and Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, a Democrat, is expected to run for lieutenant governor.

“The office is a lot like the PUC,” he said. “It impacts every consumer and every business in California.”

Also considering the office are Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, and Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

A moderate Republican like Poizner may have a better chance running statewide than in such a heavily Democratic district, such as the one Poizner sought last year, said Jack Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

“Schwarzenegger has already proved that a moderate Republican can sell statewide,” Pitney said. “Poizner also has the best asset possible—ready money.”

Indeed, Poizner said he expects to tap his fortune for insurance commissioner but also hopes to attract other support. He said he is still in the process of assembling a political team and expects to have more to say about the office soon.

Poizner said in an interview that he wanted the PUC job but couldn’t find satisfy regulators at the Fair Political Practices Commission without taking big losses on the disposal of valuable investments.

At issue was money held by private mutual funds that provide venture capital to mostly startup companies—some of which are in the telecommunications industry that is regulated by the PUC. Because the funds are not regulated and the pool of investors is limited, finding ready buyers for the investments would not be easy and could take time to arrange.

Poizner’s decision to withdraw from the PUC is a setback to Schwarzenegger, who had hoped he’d put his stamp on the agency in December with Poizner’s appointment and that of environmental attorney Dian Grueneich.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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