Voter GuideInsurance Commissioner
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Insurance Commissioner

The State of California is seeking a top regulator for the insurance industry, including the home, auto and life markets.

Qualifications:

  • Can effectively manage the nearly 1,400 employees of the Department of Insurance
  • Is willing to work on policies that most people don’t want to think about — until something really bad happens
  • Has the ability to wrangle the interests of homeowners in wildfire-prone areas with those of the companies that see insuring those properties as a losing proposition 
  • Duties include: Guiding the department to approve rate increases when financially necessary, making sure insurers treat consumers fairly, and ensuring that companies have enough money to pay out promised coverage.

Compensation

$174,843 a year, plus the opportunity to directly save Californians money — or take the heat when rates go up.

About the hiring process:

In 2018, Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara defeated Steve Poizner, who ran as an independent but was a Republican when he served as the insurance commissioner from 2007 to 2011. Lara became the California’s first openly gay statewide officeholder

This year, Lara faced a feisty primary battle with a Democratic challenger, Assemblymember Marc Levine. Levine accused Lara of not doing enough to protect homeowners in wildfire areas from losing their coverage. Levine’s campaign also created a video and sent out mailers attacking Lara for taking donations from the industry. In response, Lara’s campaign sent out mailers criticizing Levine’s voting record on labor issues. Lara also benefited from endorsements from the California Democratic Party, California Environmental Voters, Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, as well as labor groups and other state and national officials.

But ultimately, a little-known cybersecurity equipment manufacturer named Robert Howell, who ran as a Republican, eked out about 7,000 more votes than Levine for the second spot in the general election. Lara and Howell will face off in November. 

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Here’s where Robert Howell and Ricardo Lara, applicants for insurance commissioner, stand on the big questions about California’s elections.

Key Topics
Where Candidates Stand on the Issues
The job
Auto insurance
Wildfire coverage
Health Insurance
Campaign money/transparency

The state insurance commissioner regulates the insurance industry in California, including the auto, home and life markets.

What are your two top priorities in the post?
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R
Robert Howell

  1. Stop the insurance red lining in California forest areas. Require insurance carriers to give lower rates to homeowners who take measurable fire precautions and implement safety improvements to their homes and property.
  2. Open up all aspects of the operation of the state Insurance Commissioner's office for full transparency to the public. Sunlight is always the best antiseptic!
D
Ricardo Lara

  1. Implementing our new wildfire regulations and expanding funding for wildfire safety is going to require continued partnership with the governor, the Legislature, local fire chiefs and homeowners. I am the only one in this race with the experience to see this through.
  2. Implementing the recommendations in our climate insurance report to protect communities from flooding, extreme heat and wildfires. This is going to take leadership, willpower and partnership. We can’t be pushed off course by the politics of the moment or just do things to get headlines.
How would you work with the governor and Legislature?
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R
Robert Howell

I am a very plain spoken businessman, not a professional politician. The Insurance Commissioner's post is executive in nature. Many of its operations are independent of both the governor and the Legislature. I pledge to focus my work and that of the 1,400 employees to the benefit of "the people" who pay the mandatory insurance premiums in California.

D
Ricardo Lara

As a former legislator, I have long-standing record of working with the governor and Legislature to get important things done on behalf of California consumers, whether increasing payouts and evacuation benefits for wildfire survivors (Senate Bill 872 in 2020) and creating new disclosures and coverage to meet upgraded building codes (AB 2756 in 2020). I am sponsoring legislation (AB 2238) that would save lives during extreme heat events by making California the first state to rank heat waves and establish an early warning system. This idea came directly from our first-ever climate insurance report. I’m endorsed by the governor and more than 100 members of Congress, state legislators and statewide elected officials.

Californians drove less during the pandemic, cutting collision claims for auto insurers. While Commissioner Lara directed the companies to refund some premiums, saving customers more than $2.4 billion, advocacy groups say that drivers are still owed more. 

Should California motorists get further discounts for not driving as much during the pandemic?
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R
Robert Howell

Yes. I am still waiting for my family's check. A more public and thorough review of insurance company bottom lines needs to be conducted to fully determine how much money they made during the pandemic. Then return some of it to those motorists that got nothing.

D
Ricardo Lara

Yes, motorists should get further discounts for driving less during the pandemic and helping save lives. That’s why I directed insurance companies to provide premium relief to drivers and businesses due to reduced risk of loss, leading to cost savings of $2.4 billion and counting.

Some cars collect a lot of data. Is California doing enough to protect the privacy of motorists?
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R
Robert Howell

There is a need to find out exactly what the state of affairs is right now. I would be willing to let third parties and the press investigate exactly how this situation intersects with the Department of Insurance. Then make those findings available to the public.

D
Ricardo Lara

We can and should do much more to protect the privacy of motorists driving in their cars. I support strong implementation of the California Privacy Rights Act to stop corporations from taking consumers’ data without their permission. I am also committed to uphold the protections under Proposition 103 passed by voters and rules that allow vehicle data only to determine actual miles driven. I will not bend on protecting consumer data, privacy and fair rates.

Lara also temporarily blocked companies from dropping home insurance policies in wildfire zones and proposed rules to require companies to offer discounts to homeowners who protect their homes.

Do you believe that homeowners in wildfire zones should have access to affordable insurance policies? If so, how would you do that?
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R
Robert Howell

Yes, absolutely. How about a "basic flat rate" for essential fire insurance coverage across the entire state. Makes no difference where you live. Then ladder off that  up or down, dependent on how much coverage is actually needed. The current FAIR plan needs to be reviewed for both affordability and overall effectiveness. We must look to assisting the fire victims first, not last.

D
Ricardo Lara

Yes. I am pursuing regulations that will drive down the cost of insurance for those who make their homes safer from wildfires. If you do the work, you should see the reward in your insurance. That is why I created the first-ever Safer from Wildfires framework with Gov. Newsom’s administration, creating consistent and achievable wildfire safety measures for homes and communities. I am working to improve coverage options for homeowners. I ordered the FAIR Plan – California’s insurance safety net – to increase homeowners coverage limits, and to offer a comprehensive homeowners’ insurance coverage option in addition to its current limited coverage. 

Would you support restrictions on new construction in areas with high wildfire risk?
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R
Robert Howell

Not sure that is in the purview of the state Insurance Commissioner. Common-sense building codes should always be reviewed (especially at the local level). Governing decisions that are made closest to the people are usually the best. I would travel to the most impacted areas and conduct town halls to listen to those that have been impacted directly. There will be many great ideas generated and hopefully implemented as a result.

D
Ricardo Lara

Since 2019, I have participated in more than 60 town halls and community events about the growing threat of wildfires to lives and property. My comprehensive solution for addressing wildfires comes directly from these meetings. Homes that burn down or flood are not affordable. That’s why I’m working to increase home safety incentives in wildfire-prone areas. At my urging, insurance companies have significantly expanded premium discounts, now available to 2 out of every 5 consumers, providing as much as 20% discounts for wildfire-hardened homes. When my new regulations go into effect, these discounts will be available to every home and business at risk of wildfires. 

Health insurance regulation is currently split between the Department of Insurance (run by the insurance commissioner) and the Department of Managed Health Care (whose director is appointed by the governor).

Should all health insurance regulations be under one roof?
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R
Robert Howell

This is a very complicated question. California is unusual in that it has an independently elected state Insurance Commissioner, rather than appointed. If elected, I would generally look to cut red tape and regulations. There are currently too many chefs in the kitchen.

D
Ricardo Lara

I can only speak to the system we currently have, and have worked very hard to use my current authority at the California Department of Insurance to make insurers give consumers back their hard-earned money. As Insurance Commissioner, I directed health insurance companies to return premiums due to reduced use of health care services during the pandemic. I also directed health insurance companies to provide increased telehealth access for consumers. Under my leadership the Department of Insurance will continue to defend the right to choose and enforce all laws requiring insurers to cover abortion.

Does the Insurance commissioner have a role to play in controlling the cost of health insurance premiums? If so, what would you do?
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R
Robert Howell

A main priority as California Insurance Commissioner is to control the costs on all forms of insurance. I would look into the rates and practices of other similar states, especially those that have lower rates with less regulations. Then ask insurance companies why Californians are paying more. There needs to be more transparency with providing clear explanations of the rate-setting process.

D
Ricardo Lara

Same as above: I can only speak to the system we currently have, and have worked very hard to use my current authority at the California Department of Insurance to make insurers give consumers back their hard-earned money. As Insurance Commissioner, I directed health insurance companies to return premiums due to reduced use of health care services during the pandemic. I also directed health insurance companies to provide increased telehealth access for consumers. Under my leadership the Department of Insurance will continue to defend the right to choose and enforce all laws requiring insurers to cover abortion.

Do you support a single-payer health insurance system in which the state provides coverage to all Californians?
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R
Robert Howell

No. I do not. There are many problems associated with this type of socialized medicine in other countries. I am OK if California can find ways to afford paying for those that are truly in need. California should not be in the medical provider business.

D
Ricardo Lara

I am a strong supporter of Health Care for All. As a member of the state Senate, I proudly authored Senate Bill 562, the Healthy California Act, which would have created a universal, single-payer health care system in California.

Lara accepted campaign donations from the insurance industry after pledging not to do so. 

Would you support a ban on campaign contributions from those in the industry you regulate?
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R
Robert Howell

Yes! Most certainly, cast in stone. Should have been mandated when voters created the Insurance Commissioner’s office in the 1980s. There have already been two insurance commissioners caught red-handed taking industry money, including the incumbent. My campaign has not taken a dime from the insurance lobby, and we still made it into the top two. We can't afford anymore "fox guarding henhouse" situations.

D
Ricardo Lara

Yes, and I also believe that organizations receiving payments from the state of California should be required to disclose their donors.

Should the commissioner and top officials have to publicly report when they meet with insurance industry representatives, lobbyists, or people who have a financial stake in a department decision?
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R
Robert Howell

Yes. Under my administration of the Department of Insurance, all meeting minutes of these gatherings will be made public. My personal schedule and calendar will be an open book from day one. I will implement a policy that allows reasonable access to reporters (from all points of view) to interview department staff who are affected.

D
Ricardo Lara

All statewide elected officials should be bound by the same transparency laws.

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Media Endorsements

Ricardo Lara