Once an obscure office quietly appointed by the governor, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner was first elected by popular vote in the 1990 statewide election. The move to an elected insurance commissioner was written into the popular Proposition 103 in 1988 as a number of insurance “revolt” measures made that year’s ballot. Of course, most were sham measures meant to cloud voters of the benefits of Prop 103 – the only true “pro-consumer” measure – two other benefits of which were an immediate requirement auto insurers roll back rates by 20 percent and that all California drivers obtain automobile insurance.

In 2018, State Senator Ricardo Lara was elected California’s 8th Insurance Commissioner with great promise to tackle the climate crisis head-on. This not only made great sense as a principled and necessary policy but would, it was believed, help stem upward pressure on insurance rates given our growing wildfire crisis and those suffering progressively graver health effects caused by climate change.

But in four years Lara has gained almost greater attention for ethical lapses than he has for his failure to meet his own highly set expectations on the climate crisis. That’s why we support Assemblymember Marc Levine for Insurance Commissioner. Levine, a Democrat like Lara, is nevertheless challenging the incumbent because of his failings in office and with the promise to deliver good governance.

To be specific, unlike his predecessor, Dave Jones, Lara refused to require insurance companies to declare their investments in fossil fuel-related ventures. The practice of doing so had allowed climate activists to pressure Big Insurance to change its ways and divest billions from the fossil fuel industry. We don’t understand Lara’s refusal to do what Jones did for eight years, especially considering that even Connecticut – the state known as the insurance capitol of the world – adopted Jones’s practice of disclosing these investments.

Lara has had to apologize for or explain his use of campaign funds for questionable expenses, caught flack for intervening against his own department on behalf of donors, and even for receiving lavish gifts. He also caught heat for seemingly encouraging Big Oil & Gas to donate to nonprofit organizations he supports in lieu of just giving directly to his campaign coffers. But we’re not fooled by this “pay to play.” Lara has not come close to running an office that’s any model of “good government.”

Levine, on the other hand, is running as the polar opposite. He vows to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, insurance industry, and even the NRA given the hit to insurance premiums from injuries sustained by gun violence. His decade in the State Assembly and record doing exactly these things is our first assurance he’ll continue to do so. And while Lara boasts some merit on wildfire policy, we simply better trust Levine to consistently stand up to insurance interests on behalf of the survivors of wildfires. He also promises to run a more open and transparent office as Insurance Commissioner. Based on Lara’s time in office, it won’t be a high bar to cross.

Representation is important. And Westside Voice takes no pleasure in opposing an LGBTQIA+, Latinx leader who has ascended to statewide office. But we are going against most of the Democratic Party establishment in endorsing Assemblymember Marc Levine because it’s time a supposedly progressive political party admits when one of its own isn’t cutting it on the job. Please vote Marc Levine for Insurance Commissioner

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