Candidates for the elected post of California insurance commissioner are starting to declare themselves for the 2002 election, with several familiar names among the current contenders.
John Garamendi, former California commissioner, and Tom Calderon, chairman of the California Assembly committee on insurance, are among four Democratic candidates, a group that also includes Tom Umberg and William Winslow.
Harry Low, the current commissioner, has said he will not run for office in 2002.
Garamendi told National Underwriter he wants a second term as commissioner because “I love public policy.” When asked about critics’ comments that it would be a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion, Garamendi quipped, “I tried that once and it didnt work.”
Issues such as Executive Life qualify him for another term, Garamendi asserts. “I’m happy to run on Executive Life. If they want to raise Executive Life, I’ll run on it,” he says. Garamendi notes that 92% of policyholders got 100% of their contract values.
He addressed the issue of Exec Life’s junk bond portfolio, saying that three auctions were held and the highest value received at that time. Criticism has been directed at Garamendi, suggesting the department should have held onto the bonds and waited for the market to improve. However, he says the department did not have the staff or knowledge to manage the portfolio.
On financial privacy, Garamendi says legislation “needs to go beyond federal privacy laws.” The simplest solution, he says is an opt-in requirement in which a consumer would have to give permission before nonpublic personal financial information could be used.
Garamendi says his name recognition will help his candidacy. An independent field poll taken in June found he has a 50% recognition rate, the fourth highest of any California candidate running for 2002 office, he adds. It would take $4 million to $5 million in advertising to get that kind of name recognition, he says.
Garamendi also says that if elected, he will not take money from insurers.
Indeed, in filings with the state, in third quarter 2001, Garamendi had total contributions of $139,930 and a total of $150,824 in his campaign coffers.