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Ricardo Lara (Photo: California Department of Insurance)

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Incumbent Ricardo Lara Leads in California Insurance Commissioner Primary

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What You Need to Know

  • Lara will face the California primary candidate who wins the second highest vote total.
  • The candidate now in second place, Robert Howell, is the CEO of Exatron, an electronic equipment manufacturer.
  • The winner of the race could play a major role in determining whether the country moves toward a non-variable annuity sales standard based on the SEC's Regulation Best Interest or a fiduciary rule approach.

Current California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara appears to be the top performer in the California commissioner primary, but, at this point, he has just 37% of the 3.3 million votes counted.

Three other candidates — Robert Howell, a Republican; Marc Levine, a Democrat; and Greg Conlon, a Republican — each received between 16.5% and 17.8% of the votes that have been counted so far, according to early results posted by the California secretary of state’s office.

Lara now has a slot on the fall ballot. He will face whoever comes in second place, whether that candidate is a Republican or a Democrat.

In Georgia, meanwhile, John King, the state’s Republican insurance commissioner, will run either against Janice Laws Robinson, a Democrat who owns an insurance agency in Atlanta, or Raphael Baker, a Democrat who owns a professional services firm in Atlanta.

What It Means

Both California and Georgia could offer more than the usual level of insurance commissioner general-election drama.

The winner of the California race could play a major role in determining whether the United States moves toward a non-variable annuity sales standard based on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation Best Interest or on the kind of fiduciary rule approach that the U.S. Department of Labor has promoted.

Reg BI appears to allow insurers to continue to use commissions in annuity sales compensation arrangements.

The fiduciary rule approach could push insurers to rely mainly, or entirely, on working with fee-based financial advisors to help consumers apply for annuities.

The Backdrop

Governors in a large majority of states appoint the top insurance regulators, but voters in some states elect those officials. California, Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma will all have insurance commissioner races on the general election ballot this year, on Nov. 8.

Glen Mulready, Oklahoma’s Republican insurance commissioner, is the only candidate who is now running for insurance commissioner in Oklahoma. The state’s primaries are scheduled to take place on June 28.

The Kansas primary is scheduled to take place on Aug. 2.

Vicki Schmidt, Kansas’ Republican insurance commissioner, is the only Republican who has filed to run for insurance commissioner.

Kiel Corkran, an IRS tax examiner who is studying actuarial science, is the only Democrat candidate now in the race.

California

Lara was a state legislator when he became commissioner in 2018. He was known for promoting a shift to a “single-payer,” entirely government-run, health care finance system.

None of his opponents mention experience in the insurance industry, or the words “life insurance,” “annuities” or “retirement,” in their candidate statements.

Howell, who is now in second place, with 17.8% of the votes counted, is the CEO of Exatron, a San Jose, California-based company that makes therm test solutions, device handlers, automated programming systems, laser marking systems, machine visions, sockets, and other electronic machines and machine components.

California election workers are still counting vote-by-mail ballots, provisional ballots and some other types of ballots. They expect to certify their results by July 15.

Georgia

In Georgia, King won the Republican insurance commissioner primary, which was held on May 24, with 71% of the votes cast.

Patrick Witt, the closest challenger, won 17% of the votes.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, R, appointed King to replace Jim Beck, the previous commissioner, in 2019, after Beck resigned.

King is a U.S. military officer who was called up to help build field hospitals early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robinson and Baker will compete in a primary runoff June 21. Robinson was the top vote recipient in the primary, with 49% of the votes cast. Baker came in second, with 33% of the votes cast.

Robinson has worked in sales with Liberty Mutual, MetLife, State Farm and Nationwide. She now is the managing partner at J. Laws & Associates, an independent agency that sells life insurance, annuities, health insurance, and property and casualty insurance.

Baker was the founder of The Ralph Baker Agency, an insurance agency in Atlanta. He holds the Chartered Leadership Fellow professional designation from The American College of Financial Services.

Baker still has an active appointment with the AAA Life Insurance Company as well as active appointments with many property and casualty insurers, but he is now focusing on his role as the owner of Raphael Baker and Associations, a business consulting firm.

Correction: An earlier version of this article described the outcome of the May 24 Georgia insurance commissioner primary incorrectly. Robinson will compete in a primary runoff with Raphael Baker.

Ricardo Lara (Photo: California Department of Insurance)