Political Notebook: In CA insurance czar primary, Levine again falls to third place

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 29, 2022
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Assemblymember Marc Levine, who is running for state insurance commissioner, participated in the San Francisco Pride parade June 26 with his family. Photo: Courtesy Twitter
Assemblymember Marc Levine, who is running for state insurance commissioner, participated in the San Francisco Pride parade June 26 with his family. Photo: Courtesy Twitter

After moving into second place last week in his primary bid for California's insurance czar, Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae) once again finds himself in third place as more ballots have been counted. As of Wednesday, he was trailing Republican Robert Howell for second place by 4,939 votes.

Maintaining his first place finish is gay California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara (D), the lone elected LGBTQ statewide leader in the Golden State. With more than 2.4 million votes, Lara is currently leading his opponents with 35.9% of the vote.

As of Wednesday morning, an estimated 171,112 ballots remain unprocessed from the June 7 primary, according to the Secretary of State's Office, so Levine and Howell could very well again switch positions in the coming days. County elections officials have until July 8 to report their final official results, as Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber will certify the results on July 15.

Should he compete against Howell, a cybersecurity equipment manufacturer, on the November 8 general election ballot then Lara will likely have an easy path to a second four-year term. But Lara's reelection bid could be in trouble if he ends up facing Levine and GOP voters cast their votes for the state legislator from the North Bay.

The combined support in the primary for Levine, Howell, and Greg Conlon, a Republican currently in fourth place, stands at 52% of the vote. Levine's current total is 1,202,573 votes, while Howell has 1,207,512 votes. Conlon's share is 1,079,224 votes.

A campaign spokesman for Levine didn't respond to the Bay Area Reporter's request for comment by the paper's press deadline Wednesday. Last week, on June 22, Levine had hailed his "top two finish" in a tweet after he had moved back up to second place in the primary. On election night he had been behind Lara but by the next day had fallen down to third place behind Howell.

"Taking on an incumbent in a statewide race is a tall order," noted Levine in his tweet. "Many political observers assumed we'd go quietly into the night on June 7, leaving the incumbent with a non-competitive runoff. That happened in other statewide races. But so far we are beating the odds and setting up a very competitive race in November."

Over the weekend Levine participated in San Francisco's Pride parade June 26 with his family as part of gay state Senator Scott Wiener's (D-San Francisco) contingent. One photo he posted showed him holding a sign that said, "Proud to be an ally & Jewish," as they waited to march.

"Full of pride to celebrate & fight for equality. Be proud to love. Be proud to be loved," tweeted Levine.

Also joining Wiener's contingent was California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a former Democratic state assemblymember seeking election to a full term as the state's top prosecutor in the fall. Wiener and Bonta, however, are among the many Democratic officials who endorsed Lara's reelection bid this year.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. Photo: Courtesy Lara campaign  

Lara's election four years ago marked the first time an LGBTQ person had been elected to statewide office in the Golden State. But he had a rocky first term beset by ethical scandals dating back to 2019, leading to the intraparty challenge from Levine. Most of the state's daily newspapers endorsed Levine, as did the B.A.R., while the LGBTQ newspaper the Los Angeles Blade urged its readers to vote for Lara.

The power of incumbency and the strength of the Democratic vote, as Lara had secured the endorsement of the California Democratic Party, helped the Latino politician from Los Angeles County survive the primary. Lara's campaign hasn't issued any statements since the day after the primary, when it touted his winning by a two-to-one margin after running a "positive campaign" compared to the onslaught of negative ads that Levine and outside interest groups had aired against the incumbent.

"I look forward to meeting with more Californians from across the state to talk about what we're doing to help wildfire survivors and make insurance accessible to all, no matter what zip code you're from. I'm here to finish the work I started and look forward to earning your vote again in November," stated Lara.

Insurers on notice about HIV statute change
In the meantime Lara remains focused on his job at hand. On June 20 he issued a notice that "strongly" encourages insurers to provide life and disability income insurance to individuals living with HIV in advance of upcoming mandatory changes to California's HIV statutes that take effect January 1.

Lara had co-sponsored legislation in 2020 to outlaw unfair discrimination against applicants for life insurance and disability income insurance based on HIV status. The operative date of the statutes was delayed until January 1, 2023 to give insurers time to collect the information they need to underwrite individuals living with HIV, his office noted in a press release announcing the issuance of Lara's notice during Pride Month.

"California's outdated HIV statutes needed to be changed to protect individuals living with HIV," stated Lara, who had worked with state Senator Lena A. Gonzalez (D-Long Beach) to pass her Equal Insurance HIV Act of 2020. "HIV status will no longer be unfairly used as a barrier to obtaining life insurance or disability income insurance. Now individuals living with HIV will have the same opportunity as other individuals to protect themselves and their loved ones by purchasing the insurance they need."

The legislation is repealing the state's Insurance Code sections 799 through 799.09 that were enacted in 1988 as an article titled "Underwriting of AIDS Risks." One of the statutes, Insurance Code section 799.02, allows insurers to decline an application for life or disability income insurance if the applicant tests positive for HIV.

At that time, there was no effective treatment for HIV and the illness was seen as a life-threatening condition for many. Now, more than three decades later, most people living with HIV are able to enter into their senior years due to advances in treatment, making it important for them to be able to purchase life insurance policies as well as disability income insurance.

"For far too long, California's outdated laws have kept people living with HIV from getting the insurance coverage they need," stated Tony Hoang, executive director of statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California, which had also co-sponsored Gonzalez's Senate Bill 1255 two years ago. "We know that people living with HIV can live a long, healthy life and we are glad to see California's law treat them with the respect they deserve."

As Lara's office noted, insurers that don't comply with the update in the law will be subject to his enforcement powers, including Lara's authority to review consumer complaints, investigate violations of the insurance code, and, when necessary, bring enforcement actions for violating statutes that protect individuals living with HIV.

"The Equal Insurance HIV Act means California is standing up against HIV-related stigma and ending once and for all the unjust practice of insurance companies unfairly discriminating against HIV-positive individuals," stated Gonzalez, who replaced Lara in the Legislature after he stepped down from his 33rd Senate District seat to become insurance commissioner in 2019.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on federal LGBTQ data collection legislation.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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