Charles Quackenbush, a four-term Republican Assemblyman who was elected state insurance commissioner in 1994, was once viewed as the great statewide hope of the California GOP.
As commissioner, he was the lone constitutional officer among a group of statewide Democrats, and he was being groomed by the political pros for higher office. Handsome, fit and telegenic, a former helicopter pilot and Army captain, Quackenbush seemed like a natural contender.
But in 2000, he ran into a political storm. News reports delved into his activities as commissioner, revealed in part by a whistleblower from within the Department of Insurance.
According to testimony before a Democrat-controlled Legislature, Quackenbush allowed insurance industry fees, intended for nonprofit and educational purposes, to be used instead for his own political benefit, which included statewide television commercials. A number of funds had been set up to assist public education and research, but which wound up being exploited and mishandled by some within the department or with close ties to the department.
It was also alleged that following the devastating Northridge earthquake in 1994, Quackenbush allowed insurers to compensate their policyholders at a lower than acceptable levels.
Faced with impeachment and several expanding investigations, Quackenbush resigned his office on July 10, 2000. Two years later, in 2002, prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to charge him with wrongdoing.
After his resignation, Quackenbush left California – he had lived in Rio Linda north of Sacramento – and moved to Hawaii. He also lived briefly in Ohio. In 2005, he moved to Lee County, Florida, which includes Fort Myers and Bonita Springs, and became a sheriff’s deputy – first as a reserve deputy, then as a full-time law enforcement officer. Quackenbush also planned to become a helicopter pilot for the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.
The 55-year-old Quackenbush had largely avoided the public eye until 2008, when he shot and critically wounded a suspect in a domestic disturbance who allegedly was resisting arrest. Quackenbush was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Also in 2008, some $6.5 million in disputed funds that had been collected during the Quackenbush era was ordered used for its original purpose – investigating seismic risks.
The money from the fund, California Research and Assistance Fund, a nonprofit that was being dissolved in the wake of Quackenbush’s departure, was ordered dispensed by the state Seismic Safety Commission in the form of grants and contracts.