Political Notebook: Gay CA insurance czar Lara faces easy path to 2nd term

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday July 13, 2022
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California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. Photo: Courtesy Lara campaign
California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. Photo: Courtesy Lara campaign

Despite the millions spent in negative ads against him, various ethical scandals, and an intraparty challenge in the June primary, gay California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara appears to now have an easy path to being elected to a second term this fall. As such, he should remain the lone LGBTQ statewide elected leader in the Golden State.

With all ballots now counted, and Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber set to certify the results Friday, July 15, Lara will be competing against Republican Robert Howell on the November 8 general election ballot. Due to Democrats' overwhelming electoral advantage in the state, the cybersecurity equipment manufacturer is seen as having no chance of being elected California's insurance czar.

The electoral battleground for Lara could have looked completely different had Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae) survived the primary. As additional ballots were counted over the past month, Levine had moved into second place.

But his lead over Howell eventually evaporated. According to the unofficial tally July 11, Howell had secured a second-place finish with 18.1% of the vote for a total of 1,212,273 votes.

That was 6,760 votes more than Levine received, leaving him in third place with 18% of the votes. Lara took first place in the primary with 2,408,986 votes, accounting for 35.9% of the total votes cast.

Levine conceded the race July 6 and congratulated Lara and Howell on their advancing to the general election. In a statement, Levine noted his belief that any candidate or campaign that loses their race should "publicly accept the outcome of the election" and "voice our confidence in the system."

It was a pointed dig at the various Republican candidates across the country who have lost their own races this year but have refused to concede. And it also served as a swipe at former President Donald Trump, who continues to push the baseless lie that he should have been declared the winner of the 2020 presidential race.

"Taking on an incumbent in a statewide race was always going to be an uphill battle. Many political observers assumed we had no chance, but we ran a spirited race, and elevated issues too many Californians find daunting into the debate," stated Levine, who added that his "holding insurance companies accountable" rallying cry, "by the end of the race, the incumbent was making it a central part of his message, too."

In his own statement issued July 8, Lara didn't mention Levine by name. Instead, he referred to him as "the opponent who spent $1.5 million on mud-slinging and political attacks."

Lara did thank the "nurses, teachers, firefighters, and farmworkers" who helped propel him to his "2:1 victory in the primary election against Republican Robert Howell." Noting his being "the first LGBTQ+ Insurance Commissioner and statewide elected official," Lara also noted his backing "from diverse constituencies" in last month's election.

"I look forward to talking to California voters about our long track record of success in fighting for consumers and giving them a clear contrast between myself and my Republican opponent," stated Lara. "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."

Some work to do

With 52.3% of primary voters casting ballots for Howell, Levine, or fourth-place finisher GOPer Greg Conlon, and 11.8% supporting the five other candidates in the race, Lara has some work to do to win back the trust of those Californians who felt he doesn't deserve another four years. Most of the state's daily newspapers endorsed Levine, as did the Bay Area Reporter, in the primary. Of the seven incumbent statewide executive officeholders seeking reelection this year, Lara received the least amount of votes in the primary.

In conceding the race, Levine did not endorse Lara in the general election. Instead, he pledged to "continue to play a role" in the issues he had raised on the campaign trail as he now finishes his fifth term in the Assembly. Due to his not seeking reelection to his North Bay Assembly District seat, Levine will be leaving the Legislature later this year.

"By Election Day, California's insurance crisis and the need for reforms to ensure fairness, transparency, accountability, and accessibility were on many more minds in our state—from voters to editorial boards—than when we began the campaign," stated Levine. "The ideas we championed together are still important and, thanks to you, will carry forward in California in the months ahead as we continue to grapple with rising rates, insurance companies that evade accountability, and increasingly devastating wildfires."

Lara's election four years ago marked the first time an LGBTQ person had been elected to statewide office in the Golden State. While out candidates had vied in this year's primary races for governor, attorney general, state controller, and secretary of state, as well as a trans woman in the insurance commissioner's race, none advanced to the fall contests. Thus, Lara is the only statewide candidate on the November ballot from the LGBTQ community.

With Lara facing off against Howell, this year marks the first time since 2014 that all of the partisan statewide general election races in California will feature a Republican versus a Democrat, as noted in a tweet by Rob Pyers, research director for the nonpartisan California Target Book. Democrats currently hold all nine of the statewide seats up for grabs this year.

(The state Superintendent of Public Instruction race is nonpartisan, nonetheless, Democratic incumbent Tony K. Thurmond is expected to easily win reelection against Lance Ray Christensen.)

Governor Gavin Newsom is running against state Senator Brian Dahle (R-Bieber). Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis is being opposed by Angela E. Underwood Jacobs.

Weber is fending off Rob Bernosky in her bid for a full term as secretary of state, while Treasurer Fiona Ma is competing against Jack M. Guerrero. U.S. Senator Alex Padilla is running for a full six-year term against Mark P. Meuser.

In the open race for state controller, Republican Lanhee Chen picked up the endorsement last week of lesbian Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. The only GOP candidate to place first in their primary race was Chen, who received 37.2% of the vote and is facing off against Malia Cohen. A former San Francisco supervisor who is an elected member of the state's tax board, Cohen took second place with 22.7% of the vote.

Schubert, a former Republican turned independent, lost her primary bid for California attorney general. GOPer Nathan Hochman took second place to compete against Attorney General Rob Bonta and received Schubert's endorsement July 12.

HRC backs out West Coast House candidates post primaries

Following their primary victories this spring, a trio of out House candidates on the West Coast has earned the support of the political action committee for national LGBTQ advocacy organization the Human Rights Campaign. They were among the 14 House candidates the HRC PAC endorsed July 6.

Two gay men running for Southern California House seats made the list, Will Rollins and Robert Garcia, as did Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a lesbian vying for an Oregon House seat. A former Santa Clara city councilmember, McLeod-Skinner defeated moderate Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Canby) in their party primary and is now facing Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in November for the Beaver State's newly drawn 5th Congressional District.

Garcia, the mayor of Long Beach, is seeking the new, open 42nd Congressional District along the coast of Los Angeles County. He is the favored winner of his fall race against GOPer John Briscoe.

Rollins, a former federal prosecutor who lives with his partner in Canyon Lake, is aiming to oust from office conservative Congressmember Ken Calvert (R-Corona). They are competing for the new 41st Congressional District that includes a large part of the gay retirement and tourist mecca Palm Springs.

So far not endorsed by the HRC PAC is gay progressive Democrat Derek Marshall. He is considered the underdog in his race this fall against Congressmember Jay Obernolte (R-Hesperia) in the Golden State's 23rd Congressional District.

The HRC PAC did endorse last week Democrat Jay Chen, a straight ally seeking California's 45th Congressional district seat. A lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves who serves on the Mt. San Antonio Community College board, Chen is running against Congressmember Michelle Steel (R-Huntington Beach).

Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, returns Monday, July 18.

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

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