California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said that his position has become too politicized and should return to being one that’s appointed by the governor.
Poizner, who is seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, made the comments during a meeting of the California Newspaper Publishers Association in Sacramento.
California’s insurance commissioner became an elected position when voters approved Proposition 103 in 1991.
“I do think that electing the insurance commissioner has politicized the position,” he said in response to a question about whether the state has too many statewide elected officials. “And I do think that making the insurance commissioner appointed again, like they do in about 35 states, would be a step in the right direction to take some of the politics out of it.”
Poizner says the insurance commissioner acts as an important watchdog for consumers and should not be swayed by politics or campaign contributions from insurance companies and others seeking influence over the office. Poizner has refused to accept such donations.
He said he also believes the governor’s office should have more authority over education policy, which is partly overseen by an elected school superintendent.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has at times expressed his frustration at having to work with constitutional officers whose policies are at odds with his, such as Attorney General Jerry Brown and former Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, both Democrats.
“The governor believes that all the constitutional offices should be rolled into the administration, just like the president’s cabinet,” said his spokesman, Aaron McLear.
Sarah Pompei, a spokeswoman for Poizner’s GOP primary rival, Meg Whitman, responded to a request for comment by saying the insurance commissioner himself had politicized the job by not implementing Schwarzenegger’s order to furlough state employees.
Poizner’s positioned on that issue is nuanced. Whether Schwarzenegger has the right to order furloughs for other constitutional offices, including the treasurer, controller and attorney general, is being challenged in court.
Poizner will comply with whatever final ruling emerges from the legal process, said Darrel Ng, a spokesman for the department. In the meantime, Ng said the permanent cost savings Poizner has implemented within the insurance department are equal to the projected savings through the furloughs.
Tom Newton, general counsel for the CNPA, said Whitman and Brown, the presumed Democratic nominee for governor, declined the group’s invitation to speak to the group of newspaper publishers and editors.
Whitman is traveling the country to promote her new book, “The Power of Many.”
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