Lara wins insurance commissioner race, likely setting off scramble to fill his state senate seat

New vote totals show state Sen. Ricardo Lara has defeated Republican-turned-independent Steve Poizner to become the state’s next insurance commissioner, a development that’s expected to shake up the political landscape in Long Beach.

Vote counts updated since Election Day made Lara the winner with nearly 4.9 million votes, or 51.6 percent.

Lara’s win is likely to set of a scramble among local elected officials hoping to represent his district, which stretches from Long Beach in the south to Huntington Park in the north.

“If Lara wins, it’ll be a donnybrook for sure among people wanting to run for his seat,” former Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe told the Post earlier this month. “It’ll be a mad dash.”

The hopefuls could include several Long Beach council members and Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, according to Knabe. Long Beach Councilman Al Austin, who represents the eighth district, has already expressed interest in the job.

Lara will be California’s first openly gay statewide officeholder. Poizner, a former insurance commissioner, would have been the first independent to win such an election.

Lara will head the Department of Insurance, which enforces insurance laws, licenses and regulates companies and investigates fraud, now that commissioner Dave Jones is termed out of the office.

Lara previously authored a failed bill that would have provided state-run health insurance and has said that remains a top priority.

Poizner, of Los Gatos, is a wealthy Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur who lost a bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010. He ran as an independent because he said the office should be free of politics, though both men promised not to take insurance money.

Lara’s win leaves just one statewide race too close to call.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond had a 74,000-vote lead over Los Angeles schools executive Marshall Tuck in the race to become the state’s top public education official. Thurmond had nearly 4.3 million votes, or 50.4 percent.

Thurmond and Tuck are Democrats but the race is nonpartisan. Thurmond has the backing of powerful teachers unions while Tuck is supported by wealthy charter school and education reform proponents.

Long Beach Post staff writer Jason Ruiz contributed to this report.

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