Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Heating Up Political Careers with Wildfire

When one thinks of the usual stepping stones to political advancement, the office of State Insurance Commissioner doesnt immediately come to mind. But in California, that may all be changing, thanks in part to two savvy, ambitious men taking full political advantage of tragedy. For a quick parallel, consider how Rudy Guiliani promoted his response to Sept. 11 into his current run for president of the United States.

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi , a Democrat, made his mark in California politics as the first commissioner of insurance in 1990. But he rushed into a bid to become governor after one term and lost in the primary. He was elected insurance commissioner again in the 2002 elections, succeeding Chuck Quackenbush who resigned in June 2000 after being accused of collecting hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from insurance companies and using campaign funds for personal reasons.

Just seven months into his term, Garamendi again decided to run for governor in the recall election to replace Gray Davis in 2003. Within two days, he withdrew in favor of Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. Just months later, the 2003 Cedar wildfire ravaged San Diego and Garamendi rushed in to do battle with insurance companies, adjusters and perpetrators of fraud who were bilking the fire victims. Garamendis name became synonymous with action, and when he decided to take another step toward the governors seat by running for lieutenant governor in 2006, he picked up 49% of the vote to 45% for Tom McClintock. He was on his way to his third bid to be governor, this time boosted by his well-publicized activity on behalf of fire victims.


Now comes little known Republican Steve Poizner , who succeeded Garamendi as insurance commissioner. He is just a few months into his first elected office and finds himself grappling with the momentous wildfires that have again struck California. With almost no political experience under his belt, he grabbed the ball when the wildfires came and formed task forces to discourage fraud and to help the victims with insurance companies. He has been relentlessly visible in San Diego since the first days of the fires, promising help with every step of the rebuilding ordeal and providing phone numbers and Web sites. He has teamed up with the D.A. and the sheriff and his name is becoming familiar. At age 50, hes carving out his political career, and his current experience is acting as his potential launch pad.

Its not inconceivable that some future election for governor of California could see two former insurance commissioners competing to become the political leader of the state.