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Steve Poizner seeks old job, drops GOP label

Photo of candidate Steve Poizner from his official website

The first person to hold statewide office in California without aligning with a political party could be Steve Poizner.

According to at least one poll, the 61-year-old tech entrepreneur has a good chance of getting elected insurance commissioner, a job he previously held from 2007-11 when he was a Republican. The Probolsky Research survey showed Poizner leading among all voters for the June 5 primary, including showing a 10-1 lead among Republicans.

“Running as an independent is a good fit for that office,” Poizner said in a recent phone interview. “If I am successful in winning as an independent, it will pave a path for other people who want to run and serve and be problem solvers and not be partisan warriors. That would be a great thing for California if voters have choices.”

Poizner’s last bid for public office was in 2010 when he was trounced by former eBay chief executive officer Meg Whitman in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Poizner is vying for the seat left open by Dave Jones, who is running for state attorney general. Poizner’s main opponents are Democrats Sen. Ricardo Lara and physician Asif Mahmood. The Department of Insurance has more than 1,300 employees and a $250 million budget. It oversees the state’s $300 billion insurance market, the largest in the country.

Poizner’s last bid for public office was in 2010 when he was trounced by former eBay chief executive officer Meg Whitman in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

He said he is making another try at the state commissioner job because he loved it the first time and because he has a passion for public service. He said he has no secret plans to use the post as a stepping stone to run for higher office.

“I’m sick and tired of partisan politics,” he said. “I just want to run, get elected and get things done.”

A native of Texas, Poizner grew up in Houston and earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas. He moved to California in 1978 to attend Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in business administration.

He co-founded the California Charter Schools Association and EdVoice, a nonprofit advocating for education changes.

Within a few years, he founded Strategic Mapping Inc., a company that assisted police departments, utilities, transportation companies and more with selecting new locations and determining distribution logistics. His biggest success came when he later founded SnapTrack, which integrated GPS receivers into cell phones. He sold that company for $1 billion to Qualcomm in 2000.

He’s lived most of the last four decades in the Bay Area, where he and his wife Carol are avid sports fans, cheering on the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco Giants.

He co-founded the California Charter Schools Association and EdVoice, a nonprofit advocating for education changes.  More recently, he founded the Alliance for Southern California Innovation, which promotes Silicon Valley-type innovation in the region.

He says his skills and experience would help him serve as insurance commissioner, which requires a delicate balancing act.

On the one hand, the job to protect consumers and make sure insurance companies give full payouts and don’t cancel coverage incorrectly. “My job is to come down on insurance companies breaking the rules like a ton of bricks,” he said.

At the same time, the state insurance commissioner must encourage insurance companies to offer many products and services to state residents so they will have plenty of choices.

Poizner doesn’t regret his decision to leave the Republican party and said that wherever he goes, he hears from Californians of all affiliations who are tired of political bickering and fighting.

Poizner’s opponents Lara and Mahmood focus on protecting health insurance as among their chief concerns. Lara says on his website that he wants to be a “counterpuncher, who will stand up to fight our bulling President, Donald Trump.”

On Poizner’s website he cites his priorities as disaster relief (including wildfires and floods), cybercrime protection, tackling fraud in all areas of insurance, including health care.

Poizner said his proudest accomplishments as insurance commissioner the first time included recovering $30 million for wildfire victims who were shortchanged by insurance companies, saving drivers and homeowners almost $2 billion in lower insurance rates and cutting the insurance department budget by 13 percent without layoffs.  He also had 3,000 people arrested for insurance fraud.

He’s particularly concerned that Californians are under-insured for damage from wildfires and he’s worried that with wildfires becoming more common, insurance companies will drop coverage all together.  If elected insurance commissioner, he said he would launch a large-scale consumer education campaign to encourage the public to update their insurance and shop around for the best choices.

Poizner doesn’t regret his decision to leave the Republican party and said that wherever he goes, he hears from Californians of all affiliations who are tired of political bickering and fighting.

“My independent candidacy is a breath of fresh air,” he said. “It’s all positive, there’s nothing negative about it. It’s the right thing to do for this office.”

 


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