Monday, October 15, 2018

IF THERE REALLY IS A BLUE WAVE, WHICH SEATS GO DEM?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “IF THERE REALLY IS A BLUE WAVE, WHICH SEATS GO DEM?”


          Nowhere has talk of an impending “blue wave” sweeping Democrats into Congress and Republicans out been louder and more constant this fall than in California, where the GOP held only 14 of the state’s 53 House seats even before election season began.


          But as the vote proceeds by mail this month and nears a climax in polling booths, one thing seems likely: Democrats will not dominate quite as strongly here as they’ve hoped.


          Yes, they do have the advantage that this mid-term election is largely a referendum on Donald Trump’s popularity as President. But no, Democrats probably won’t flip seven seats here – half the GOP total – as they’ve often said might be a key factor in gaining control of Congress’ lower house.


          Example: Even though Democrats have often touted the approximately 40 percent Latino residency in Devin Nunes’ 22nd District, it has been several cycles since his vote total was under 68 percent of all those cast. Even now, with reams of national publicity over his questionable conduct as a Trump acolyte while chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the often-authoritative Cook Report still rates the 22nd a “solid Republican” district.


          This despite the very recent revelation by Vanity Fair magazine that Nunes, who often says he’s a Tulare-area dairy farmer, and his family long ago moved their operation to Iowa. Only an uncle still has a local dairy farm, the magazine reported.


          So this seat, once considered a decent possibility for the Democrats, will likely stay red. Probably, so will Tom McClintock’s 4th district in the Sierra Nevada foothills east and southeast of Sacramento, despite his getting his first taste in many years of serious Democratic opposition.


          But there almost certainly will be some Democratic pickups, as several Republican-held seats are now rated tossups or leaning Democratic. One that leans Democratic is the 49th district in north San Diego County and south Orange County. There Democrat Mike Levin has led Republican Diane Harkey by a 10-point margin for the seat long held by the GOP’s Darrell Issa, currently listed as the richest man in Congress due to his car alarm fortune.


          Another seat looking promising for Democrats is the coastal Orange County district long dominated by Republican Dana Rohrabacher, sometimes called “Vladimir Putin’s favorite congressman” because of his frequent Russophile remarks. Recent data showed Democrat Harley Rouda either even or leading narrowly over Rohrabacher.


          Democrat Katie Porter also appears to have a decent shot at beating Republican Mimi Walters in another Orange County district, the 45th, where Walters took 59 percent of the vote two years ago. A Walters loss would be a major turnaround attributable almost completely to Walters’ strong backing of Trump.


          Democrat Katie Hill’s attempt to unseat Republican Steve Knight in the 25th District, centered on Santa Clarita, also is rated a tossup in most polls. Knight won only narrowly two years ago, and appears vulnerable.


          So does Republican Jeff Denham in the 10th District, centered on Modesto. Like Nunes’ district, the 10th has a large Latino populace, but Denham drew just 52 percent of the vote last time out, far behind Nunes’ 2016 performance. Democrats will spend more than $4 million trying to take over this district.


          But they are not doing as well in the 39th District in northern Orange County and some parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Long held by the retiring Republican Ed Royce, now chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, this district was considered ripe for plucking by the Democrats, but that party’s candidate, Gil Cisneros, trailed Republican Young Kim by about 4 percentage points in one recent poll.


          If Democrats win all the races now leaning their way, but lose any of those that appear to be tossups right now, there’s a good chance they may not take over the House, which comes with investigative powers many of them are salivating to use against Trump, just as the GOP used them to hound former President Barack Obama.


          The bottom line: There will likely be something of a blue wave when the results start pouring in on Election Night, but anyone claiming it will be of tsunami size may prove to have been carried away.


    -30-       
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net


TRUMP OBSCURES HUGE DIFFERENCES IN THE RUN FOR GOVERNOR


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “TRUMP OBSCURES HUGE DIFFERENCES IN THE RUN FOR GOVERNOR”


          The focus of the ongoing election, one where many voters already have ballots in hand, is primarily on President Donald Trump, from both his loyal supporters and his fervent opponents.


          Without Trump’s presence, there would be few threats to the current status quo in the state’s delegation to Congress, where 39 current members are Democrats and 14 Republicans. But Trump arouses such strong feelings that half the current GOP seats appear threatened this fall, even though his name is absent from official election materials. So there’s plenty of contrast in the congressional races, where Trump’s antagonists are working ferociously to weaken his support on Capitol Hill.


          One result is that a run for governor that might otherwise be central to voters draws relatively little attention.


          Yet, California’s governor is arguably the second most powerful political figure in America, with a bully pulpit and authority over a huge budget and bureaucracy. The governor and his appointees control utility prices, air quality, highway construction, state parks and much more.


          And the current race between Republican businessman John Cox and Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor and himself a businessman, offers as strong a contrast as any of the hot contests for Congress.


          For sure, the old saw that there’s “not a donut’s worth of difference” between political parties and their candidates does not apply this time.


          One example: Cox is one of the prime funders of Proposition 6, the initiative seeking to rid drivers of a 12 cent per gallon gasoline tax increase imposed mostly by Democratic state legislators last year. Newsom says the state needs the money, but Cox calls Caltrans grossly inefficient and maintains cutting waste would provide money do everything planned for the gas tax increase.


          Cox strongly supports Trump, who also has had a role in this race. The President’s endorsement of Cox before the June primary election was a big reason he won a spot in the current runoff election.


Newsom, meanwhile, promises to continue and possibly expand ongoing California policies that make it the single largest antagonist of Trump’s agenda on the environment, immigration and energy. Trump has attacked Newsom in tweets and speeches, causing Newsom to tweet back that “next time you call me and my policies out, have the guts to @ me and we can have a chat.”


          Then there’s the nonspecific Cox pledge to halt alleged waste at Caltrans, contrasting with Newsom’s call for widespread reforms in the state’s entire contract bidding process. Newsom sees entirely too many single-bid contracts being let by the state, which he says might be wasting billions of dollars.


          Cox firmly opposes the state’s ongoing High Speed Rail construction project, demanding its funds be redirected to improve roads, highways and “more efficient” transit projects, without specifying what that means. Newsom likes the bullet train, sees it as a way to make parts of the Central Valley into bedroom communities for industries in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas. He says fast trains could make now-torturous commutes routine, allowing workers access to home ownership at costs far below those in coastal counties.


          Newsom says the state’s biggest problem is income inequality, and hopes to relieve it somewhat via single-payer health insurance, among other tactics. Cox never mentions income inequality on the campaign trail or on his website, but says he can relieve much of the state’s poverty via “reform” of the California Environmental Quality Act.


          But their biggest contrasts come over basic values and social issues, where Cox has little to say about gay rights, higher minimum wages or gun control. Newsom makes those issues central in his stump speeches and on his website, where he declares his devotion to those causes and others like paid family leave, universal pre-school and same-sex marriage rights.


          Newsom promises to “protect immigrant rights and defend our sanctuary status;” Cox says he “flatly rejects” sanctuary policies “that have allowed violent criminal aliens to escape prosecution.” He wants “smart immigration” bringing in workers with “skills needed to fill specific shortages.”


          In short, California somehow wound up with a classic Republican vs. Democrat race despite its top-two primary election system, which sees Democrat-on-Democrat contests for many offices, including the U.S. Senate.
         
         
-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Monday, October 8, 2018

PROPS. 5, 10: A LITTLE HELP FOR THE HOUSING CRISIS?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “PROPS. 5, 10: A LITTLE HELP FOR THE HOUSING CRISIS?”


          All across California’s political spectrum, agreement is solid that this state suffers from a significant housing crisis – one of both affordability and supply.


          But there’s little agreement on what to do about it. Some politicians push for massive building within existing cities, especially near rapid transit stops and the most frequently used bus routes. Others suggest that almost half of all newly-built housing should fall into the “affordable” category with income limits on buyers.


          One thing for sure: steep rises in the price of existing homes make it hard for all but the wealthiest people in the under-40 age categories to buy, especially in coastal counties where increases have been highest. At the same time, rents in many cities are so high that a majority of households in some counties devote half their income or more to housing costs.


          Two propositions on the November ballot now enter this fraught area, one allowing vast expansion of the rent controls now operating in 15 California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The other expands the right of homeowners over 55 to transfer existing property tax valuations to any replacement house or condominium they might buy.


          Rent controls have been sharply limited since the late 1990s by the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, named for two state legislators of that time.


          Costa-Hawkins greatly eased strict controls in cities like Santa Monica, Cotati and San Francisco. Yes, rent controls there still apply to apartments (most local laws do not cover rented single-family houses) so long as they remain occupied by the same persons. But when renters move out, prices can rise to market rates, often doubling or more when longtime residents move on. The original ordinances kept strict controls in place even when vacancies occurred.


          Under those original laws, many landlords neglected maintenance: paint peeled, plumbing deteriorated and stucco cracked without being repaired because landlords felt their profits were too thin. Tenants often had to do the repairs.


          Costa-Hawkins gave landlords relief, but led to widespread under-the-table sublets, with original tenants re-renting to others at rates far below what an open market would allow. At the same time, many tenants who rented when quite young grew older and wealthier, but clung to their low-cost units for decades, a form of welfare for the middle class. Few studies measure these phenomena, in part because researchers find it hard to get honest information.


          Still, rent controls allow many to stay in prime areas they otherwise could not afford. Expanding vacancy controls, as Prop. 10 would allow where cities choose to do it, might slow the high-rent tide.


          Prop. 5 would affect housing very differently. Current laws, adopted a decade or so after passage of the landmark 1978 Prop. 13 property tax limits, allow homeowners over 55 to carry their current tax valuations (1 percent of the latest purchase price or the 1975 value, plus a 2 percent increase each year) to a replacement home of equal or lesser value within their own county. But only 10 of the 58 counties allow this benefit to cross county lines.


          One result is that realtors report at least 70 percent of over-55 homeowners have not moved in 17 years. By contrast, the Rand Corp. reported in the 1970s that the average Californian moved every seven years.


Less movement by older homeowners cuts the ability of younger families to move into larger, established homes often owned by seniors. What’s more, several counties that once participated in the tax benefit transfer program – Contra Costa, Marin and Monterey – pulled out because they believed they lost property tax money.


          That concern leads most public employee groups, including the state sheriff’s association and teachers’ unions, to oppose Prop. 5.


          But realtors backing it say it could free existing housing for homeowners wanting to move up in price category who now find it difficult to find homes for sale. That, in turn, could open more starter homes for young buyers. If more homes come on the market, realtors argue, prices may drop and ease the affordability problem.


          Taken together, these measures have the potential to create some movement at last on a problem area that’s been essentially frozen for decades.


-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

NEWSOM: EXPECT SOME CHANGES, BUT NO CLEAN SLATE


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “NEWSOM: EXPECT SOME CHANGES, BUT NO CLEAN SLATE”


          A few feet behind Gavin Newsom as he sipped a drink in a coffee shop near Los Angeles International Airport, a tall man with a wet paint roller wiped a menu blackboard clear, giving the store a clean slate.


          But Newsom’s words and attitudes in an interview made it clear the symbolism was only partially complete.


          “I tend to agree with (current Gov.) Jerry Brown on 95 percent of things,” said the lieutenant governor and former San Francisco mayor. “I differ with him on some of his bill signings and vetoes, on gun control for one example. When I was mayor, (now Senator, then District Attorney) Kamala Harris and I tried to shut down the Cow Palace gun shows. Jerry had the chance to do that last month, but instead he vetoed the bill. I would have signed it.”


          Democrat Newsom – leading Republican John Cox by double figures in every poll this fall in their run for governor – thinks that if elected, he would also be more involved in women’s and children’s issues, ascribing his interest to his second wife, actress Jennifer Siebel. “If you’ve met my wife,” he grinned, “you may not be surprised at how the dynamics of women’s issues might change.”


          But Newsom says anyone who expects he might loosen the state’s purse strings when the famously parsimonious Brown era ends may be mistaken. “I was anything but a free spender when I was mayor,” he said. “Just look at my record.”


          He also says he won’t back California away from resisting many of President Trump’s policies. “I admire (Atty. Gen.) Xavier Becerra’s 44 (and counting) lawsuits against the Trump administration’s moves,” Newsom said. “He’s right on all of them. These lawsuits are principled and go deep in pursuing California values. I will defend California’s values on the environment and immigration and other issues and I will not be timid.


          “At the same time, I will not go to bed every night thinking what I can do the next day to resist Donald Trump. I’ll do what’s necessary and right.”


          Newsom also wants to re-instill civility in politics. He says he’s come to admire some traits of opponent Cox, a businessman who moved to California from Illinois about a decade ago.


          “I like his resiliency in the face of long odds,” Newsom said. “His whole history shows that. I admire his putting himself forward the way he has.”


          Does this mean he might give Cox a job in a putative Newsom administration, as he did with some onetime opponents in San Francisco? Say, make Cox a University of California regent or a California State University trustee? “He approves of (federal Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos and what she’s trying to do,” Newsom said. “So that would be a no.” What about a spot on the state’s Athletic Commission, which regulates boxing? Newsom just chuckled.


          Newsom said he’s also learned from other election rivals, like former state Schools Supt. Delaine Eastin. “For authenticity, unbridled conviction, humor and energy, there’s no one like Delaine. I may well recruit her for something. The same for (former Los Angeles Mayor) Antonio Villaraigosa.


          “There are ways to let your opponents save face.”


          Newsom added that he’ll likely heed the problems of homelessness more than Brown. “We took 10,000 people off the streets when I was mayor,” he said. “But when you build affordable new housing for the homeless, for every 10 that you house, 10 more soon arrive. So we need to regionalize the problem and the solutions. We also need to be careful about over-promising, not give people the idea we can do more than we actually can accomplish.”


          And what about running for president? “Oh, God no. No. No. But I realize no one cares what I say about that. I still get the question. Maybe that’s why I’m now on Trump’s radar (the president has mocked him twice recently on Twitter). But I mean what I say.”


          But what about a year from now, if Democrats don’t coalesce around a single candidate? “I will say California gives the structural advantage of holding an early primary in 2000. This state should play a central role in the future of America and the Democratic Party.” Which may mean, stay tuned.

         
-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Monday, October 1, 2018

ONCE DESPERATE UTILITIES’ FIRE WORRIES DISAPPEAR

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2018 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “ONCE DESPERATE UTILITIES’ FIRE WORRIES DISAPPEAR”


       It’s extremely rare for California’s big utility companies to spend many millions of dollars on a lobbying effort – and lose.


      That very nearly happened last summer to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which spent a combined total of more than $10 million dollars over the last year trying to have their way with state legislators, mainly over the issue of liability levels when their equipment causes wildfires.


          But not to worry… the utilities eventually got almost precisely the bailout they wanted.


          Under previous law, even when power lines and transformers were well maintained and brush cleared to satisfy safety standards, utilities could be forced to pay for damages when it was determined their equipment caused fires to break out.


          The lobbying flurry began in late 2017, after the state’s Public Utilities Commission diverged from its longstanding pattern of caving in to utility demands and handed down its most consumer-friendly decision in several decades.


          That unanimous ruling by the five commissioners may force SDG&E and not its customers to pay more than $379 million in uninsured costs from the 2007 Witch, Guejito and Rice fires that devastated large parts of San Diego County, destroying more than 1,100 homes and killing two persons. Prior to those huge fires, authorities found, SDG&E failed to maintain its equipment properly and did not adequately trim tree branches and chaparral near power lines, which caught fire when the power lines arced and sparked in high winds.


          Even now, 11 years after those fires, SDG&E is still in court trying to fob its liability costs off onto customers, ironically including some whose homes burned in the same fires.


          The late-2017 PUC decision came as hundreds of lawsuits were being filed against PG&E and Edison for their alleged responsibility in the start of the huge Wine Country and Thomas fires that ravaged cities like Santa Rosa, Calistoga, Montecito and Ventura last year.


          Those companies do not want even to think about the possibility of a repeat of the utility commission’s ruling against SDG&E. So they enlisted Gov. Jerry Brown, whose sister has collected more than $1 million as a board member of SDG&E’s parent company, to help push for new liability rules shifting much of their obligation to insurance companies and individual homeowners who had nothing to do with starting those fires.


          The rationale for such a gift to the privately-owned utilities was that the new fire dangers caused by climate change and the dead trees it helps kill might drive the companies into bankruptcy and endanger California’s electricity supply.


          If there ever was much danger to the utilities, it no longer exists. Because even after their initial bailout bill failed, the companies’ second effort measure passed in the dying hours of the legislative session and Brown quickly signed it.


          This new law, known as SB 901, will let the utilities dun customers for much of their fire-related liability, even when they are clearly culpable. All it will take to authorize this is a vote by the PUC, which almost always favors utilities over consumers. Had the bill not passed, SDG&E said, the unusual 2017 PUC decision could have had “severe adverse practical consequences for privately owned utilities” and might cause “ripple effects throughout the state’s economy.”


          Of course, that ignored the “ripple effects” that will follow if utility customers in San Diego County and elsewhere are now forced to pay off all the uninsured legal claims filed against utilities from the 2017 fires, which burned hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of homes.


          But the new law won’t cover the 2007 fires. If an appeals court accepts SDG&E’s challenge to its liabilities from them, bet on PG&E and Edison participating as they also renew their effort to avoid paying for damage their equipment has caused.


          The desperation the companies felt after losing their first legislative round was an emotion very unfamiliar to them, as they’ve always previously been favored by both regulators and state legislators. But those companies really had nothing to worry about. Now only a generally sympathetic regulatory panel stands between them and billions of dollars worth of aid from their customers.

                  
    -30-       
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

IF COX AND GOP SCORE WINS, THEY CAN THANK TRUMP


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

      “IF COX AND GOP SCORE WINS, THEY CAN THANK TRUMP”


          For months during California’s primary election season, businessman John Cox limped along in his run for governor, hoping to finish second and take on Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in the fall’s general election, which now matches the top two finishers in the primary.


          In published polls, Cox trailed Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, barely leading fellow Republican Travis Allen, an Orange County assemblyman.


          Then, in early May, President Trump without prior notice endorsed Cox, and the primary was essentially over. Republican supporters deserted Allen and gave Cox the 25 percent overall vote that placed him second and in the runoff, where many votes will be cast by mail this month.


          Very recent polling shows Cox again gaining on his goal as the election nears, climbing to within 12 percentage points of Newsom, who has run almost as if he takes victory for granted.


          It appears that if Cox eventually beats Newsom, once again he can thank Trump.


          For the President has changed politics in America, including California. He’s altered perceptions of what is acceptable behavior and personal history for those who seek the highest offices. He has made irrelevant, ho-hum stuff of a history of big-bucks corporate bankruptcies and lawsuit settlements. He has made lying and crazy talk not backed by facts into standard political fare.


          In some of those categories, the new reality can only help Cox. When the vice mayor of Dixon, a city of about 20,000 between San Francisco and Sacramento, last month open called gay men “tinkerbells” and “fairies” and suffered no penalty, it revealed Trump’s coarse talk has taken hold in California, even while the President’s popularity here remains low.


          So it was that Cox could compare a long wait at the Department of Motor Vehicles to life in a World War II Nazi concentration camp and gain ground despite trivializing the most brutal and sustained atrocity of the modern era.


          As with Trump, Cox’ financial peccadillos also have not harmed him. Back in 2004, while still living in Illinois, his investment firm paid $16,000 in federal fines to settle charges of mishandling client funds. Cox also paid a $1.7 million settlement to investors to settle a lawsuit over his handling of a real estate deal.


          Beside these things, Newsom’s admitted long-ago affair with his best friend’s wife looks petty. Trump, of course, has had bigger-money failures and bankruptcies, plus far more sexual peccadillos, but they don’t reduce his base voting support.


          Any one of these things would likely have derailed a statewide candidate here as recently as the last campaign for governor. But not this time.


          One reason, some experts say, is that the voting public no longer takes past personal and financial problems seriously. Voters also take a Democratic win for governor so much for granted they pay little attention to Republican candidates, whatever they do.


          Meanwhile, Cox keeps coming up with clever, almost revolutionary, ideas. One was his notion of a 12,000-person “neighborhood-based” state Legislature, a failed initiative which does not join him on the ballot as he had hoped it would.


          Another was his idea of having all state legislators wear stickers with the names of their top campaign donors while on the statehouse floor, a la NASCAR drivers. That was his way of saying state lawmaking is too much influenced by big money.


          Cox has also claimed “a revolution is brewing here,” and tries to spur that along by promoting the Proposition 6 proposed repeal of last year’s gas tax increase.


          If he and other Republicans win, it would no doubt be in part because Cox advocated so hard for that measure, having glommed onto it early in his primary run.

          But even if he loses, and the results nevertheless show his gaffes and somewhat checkered background did him no harm, it would be partly because of Trump’s great influence and partly because so-called experts took him too lightly.


          “Gaffes are troublesome if people are paying attention,” Bill Whalen, a fellow of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and onetime speechwriter for Republican ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, told a reporter. “But how many people are watching the California governor’s race right now? Not many.”
         
          -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net


Monday, September 24, 2018

POIZNER SEEKING A CALIFORNIA ELECTORAL MILESTONE


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “POIZNER SEEKING A CALIFORNIA ELECTORAL MILESTONE”


          If there’s a theme to Steve Poizner’s independent campaign for state insurance commissioner, it might be “back to the future.”


          Poizner, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur who held the office four years and ran it in a more nonpartisan fashion than anyone since insurance commissioners became elected officials in 1988, always said his office should be independent of political parties. Now he’s trying to make that into reality.


          In fact, insurance issues rarely concern big social causes like abortion, guns and immigration. Where they sometimes intersect with politics, as in race-related red-lining, climate change or health insurance company mergers, insurance regulators need to be scrupulously fair and even-handed.


          But Poizner could not eliminate politics in his earlier go-‘round, forced to pick one party or another if he wanted any electoral credibility. That was before voters created the top-two primary system in a 2010 ballot proposition, a change that led him to re-register with no party preference last year. In June he became the first independent to win a statewide California primary in more than a century.


          He topped Democrat Ricardo Lara, a soon-to-be-termed-out state senator from Los Angeles, by just over 31,000 votes, but faces Lara again this fall. Even though one August poll showed Poizner six points ahead of Lara, the ex-commissioner has no easy task in trying to win one more term in his old office. For a second Democrat won more than 813,000 primary votes and Lara is likely to pick up most of them.


          Lara has also been highly visible in the Legislature, especially lately. He’s been an activist in the sanctuary movement to protect non-criminal illegal immigrants from deportation. He authored a new law prohibiting insurance companies from cancelling or failing to renew homeowner policies in fire areas and their immediate surroundings for one year after a state of emergency is declared. And more.


          But the Poizner campaign represents a landmark. It’s common for the 25 percent-plus of California voters who are registered Republican to gripe about one-party government in Sacramento, and the marginally larger corps of no-party-preference voters often voices the same complaint.


          But Democrats have such a large voter registration plurality with more than 44 percent of all registered voters that it would take a remarkable candidate to break their stranglehold on statewide offices.


          Poizner might fit that bill. Even though he conducted an unsuccessful primary election run for governor in 2010, he now presents himself not as an ambitious politician, but as a problem solver taking care of everyone, no matter their political inclinations.


          “You don’t want to be tied to one political party or the other,” he said in an interview. “When you’re tied to one, all kinds of things come up. I got political pressure when I was commissioner, but I won’t name names. My four years there tells me when you have business before the Department of Insurance, it should be about protecting consumers and making sure they have lots of positive, healthy choices when shopping for insurance.”


          Poizner adds that “I could say something similar about lots of other state agencies, too, like the controller and the secretary of state.”


          But everyone now running for those offices has a strong party affiliation. One reason, of course, is that it costs a lot of money to run statewide campaigns, even for secondary offices. Few can get that cash without a strong party connection. But Poizner made a fortune estimated at as much as $1 billion by founding and later selling two high-tech companies and has so far kicked a total of $500,000 into his campaign and raised about $1 million more from others.


          If Poizner can win, it’s just possible California might get started toward some kind of alternative to the two extremely ideological major political parties. Up to now, there has been no credible alternative.


          Says Poizner, “It’s been incredibly liberating to be independent. Both parties are not problem solvers. But I just want to run and serve again, and the open primary system we now have in California might just allow me to do that.”

 
-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net