State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) announced yesterday that he would run for the statewide insurance commissioner position in 2018.
Lara’s announcement comes less than a month after introducing a bill that would bring a single payer healthcare system to California, which he rallied for at Long Beach’s Harvey Milk Park alongside Mayor Robert Garcia. The pair spoke to supporters of the need for such a system as the United States Congress mulls the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
In a statement, Lara said that the nation is in “full blown crisis mode” and his decision to run for the position was prompted by the need for someone to fight back against the actions being sought by President Donald Trump and his administration.
“I’m running to be California’s next State Senate Commissioner because I believe at my core that California needs a strong defender, and a counterpuncher, who will stand up to fight our bullying President, Donald Trump, and his increasingly reckless federal government on issues from healthcare access to economic security and more,” Lara said in a statement released Tuesday. “If millions of Californians begin losing their health insurance because of actions taken by Donald Trump, I will be there to fight him tooth and nail at every pass.”
The California Department of Insurance (DOI) regulates the state’s insurance markets which is the largest in the nation. Insurers in the state collect nearly $290 billion in premiums annually from state residents according to the DOI website.
Lara is working with the Los Angeles based firm Jacobsen & Zilber Strategies, which has worked on notable campaigns both statewide and nationally including victories by Governor Jerry Brown (2010), State Senator Kevin de Leon (2014), LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn (2016) and former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.
He is joined in the field by former Democratic state Assemblymembers Susan Bonilla and Henry Perea and Paul Song, the former leader of the California progressive group Courage Campaign.
All four are vying to replace current insurance commissioner Dave Jones who was first elected to his position in November 2010. Jones has thrown his name into the 2018 race to become the state’s attorney general.
If Lara is successful in his campaign to become the state’s next insurance commissioner it’s unclear what that could mean for local political figures and their futures.
The 33rd Senate District that Lara represents includes most of Long Beach, excluding the Naples area and most eastern reaches of the city, which means in theory that any person living within the boundaries of the district could run for an open seat potentially vacated by Lara. State law requires those running for an open seat to live in the district it serves.
The 2018 Long Beach municipal elections will feature five council seats—all odd numbered districts are up for a vote—and the mayor’s seat. With just over a year until the April primaries no challengers have announced candidacies to challenge incumbents, however, if one were to run for an open senate seat and win it could set off a domino effect which would undoubtedly include a costly special election to replace them.
A special election was held in 2015 to fill the vacant seat left in the fourth district when Councilman Patrick O'Donnell left that position after a successful campaign for a seat in the California State Assembly. At the time the city clerk's office estimated that the 2015 election, which only accounted for voters in the affected district, would cost the city about $6.50 per vote to process. That sum would surely grow if a citywide election was needed to fill a mayoral seat.
No members of the council or the mayor have commented publicly on Lara’s announcement to run.
If elected, Lara would become the first openly gay statewide elected official in California. The 43-year-old who serves as the chairman of the Senate’s appropriation committee has been seen as the “point man” of immigrant rights, recently championing bills providing healthcare for undocumented children and yesterday revealed a package of bills that would alter the way that youth are treated in the state’s criminal justice system.
“As California Insurance Commissioner, I’ll work tirelessly to represent the great people of California, not the corporations, the billionaire class, the pharmaceutical or the insurance companies,” Lara said. “I plan to work with anybody who is willing to come to the table, but my allegiance will always be first and foremost to the consumers, the patients, our working families, and our most vulnerable communities in our Golden State.”