Incumbent California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara had a wide early edge against his eight challengers in Tuesday’s primary.
Lara, a Democrat, was elected in 2018, and in doing so became the state of California’s first openly gay statewide officeholder. The job pays about $174,843 a year.
CalMatters voters guide: More on the Insurance Commissioner’s race
With 5.7% of the precincts reporting, Lara had 39.1% of the vote, while Republican Greg Conlon had 17.4%, Republican Robert Howell had 16.5%, and Democrat Marc Levine had 16.0%.
Other challengers were trailing far behind:
- Vinison Allen, 4.7%
- Veronika Fibers, 1.9%
- Jasper Jackson, 1.8%
- Robert Molnar, 1.4%
- Nathalie Hirzi, 1.3%
The pandemic brought about unique challenges for the insurance commissioner. With many Californians not driving as much, there were fewer accident claims and Lara directed auto insurance companies to refund some of those premiums. According to CalMatters.org, customers were refunded more than $2.4 billion, but the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog estimates that California drivers are still owed $5.5 billion more. In October, Lara asked some of the state’s largest auto insurers to provide detailed data on how they are going to pay back insurers or face legal action.
Conlon is a businessman and Howell is a cybersecurity equipment manufacturer.
Levine, a member of the California State Assembly, had been aggressive in questioning Lara’s stewardship, particularly that he is not doing enough for homeowners in wildfire areas, another crucial part of the Insurance Commissioner’s role in this state.
Two other Democrats running were doctor and businessman Vinson Eugene Allen, and paralegal Jasper Jay Jackson.
The remaining three candidates were nurse Veronika Fimbres of the Green Party, teacher and union officer Nathalie Hriizi of the Peace & Freedom Party and health care advocate and businessman Robert J. Molnar, an independent.
The job requires the officeholder to thread the needle between working in the best interests of consumers and insurance companies at the same time.
The commissioner oversees the California Department of Insurance, which regulates the state’s insurance industry, and the winning candidate will have a difficult balancing act, made even more difficult by the pandemic. The winner would have to potentially approve insurance rate hikes on one hand, but also be in a position to ensure that consumers are being treated fairly by insurance companies on the other.