SPECIAL REPORT / ELECTION PREVIEW : DECISION '94 / A Voter's Guide to State and Local Elections : Statewide Offices : A look at the major candidates in contested races. : INSURANCE COMMISSIONER

One of the most powerful statewide officeholders, the insurance commissioner has the authority to grant insurance rate increases, investigate fraud and respond to consumer complaints. The commissioner can seize insurance companies deemed to be insolvent and manage them to protect policyholders. Salary: $95,052.

MAJOR CANDIDATES

* Republicans: James Conran, director of the state Department of Consumer Affairs; Assemblyman Charles Quackenbush, and Wes Bannister, an insurance agency owner.

* Democrats: Assemblyman Burt Margolin and Sen. Art Torres.

ISSUES

Torres and Margolin are liberals with similar voting records. Margolin vows to take a strong pro-consumer approach toward rate hike requests and other matters. Torres also vows to be pro-consumer, but says he would tone down the rancor between the commissioner's office and the industry. Margolin takes a particular interest in health insurance reform and is against no-fault auto insurance, saying accident victims should have the right to sue in cases of negligence. Torres was in favor of no-fault insurance but has modified that stand, saying consumers should have a choice between buying no-fault insurance, which would cost less, or policies that would allow them to sue. Both Democrats supported Proposition 103, the 1988 industry-opposed ballot measure that set up the current regulatory scheme. Both pledge to take no campaign donations from the insurance industry.

All three Republicans opposed Proposition 103. Conran describes himself as pro-consumer, but also has pledged to have a positive relationship with the industry. Conran supports no-fault auto insurance and takes donations from insurance companies and independent insurance agents. Quackenbush, a moderate, also supports no-fault, and takes a free market approach to most economic issues. Quackenbush accepts donations from agents, but not from insurance companies that he would directly regulate. Bannister, the GOP nominee in 1990, is running a low-cost campaign, and says the job should go to one who knows the industry and is not a politician. He is taking money, mostly in small increments, from insurance agents, and also from a few insurance companies. He favors no-fault auto insurance.

HISTORY

The office became elective--although not a constitutional office like other statewide positions--in 1990 with the passage of Proposition 103. John Garamendi, the first elected insurance commissioner, has run a high-profile and controversial office, waging battles with mixed success to force insurance companies to give consumer rebates intended by Proposition 103. The new commissioner will inherit that task. Garamendi is leaving the office to run for governor.

PROFILES

WES BANNISTER

* Age: 57

* Residence: Huntington Beach

* Current position: Owns an independent insurance agency

* Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Houston

* Career highlights: Bannister won the Republican nomination for insurance commissioner in the 1990 primary but lost to Garamendi in the fall, garnering 37% of the vote. He was on the Huntington Beach City Council from 1986 to 1990and is a member of various water boards.

* Family: Married, three grown children

*

JIM CONRAN

* Age: 42

* Residence: Orinda

* Current position: Left state job to run for office

* Education: Bachelor's degree, Cal State Northridge, master's degree in urban studies from Occidental College

* Career highlights: Became director of the Department of Consumer Affairs in 1991, after working as an executive for Pacific Bell for 13 years. He quit the agency to become a candidate. As a top state bureaucrat, Conran gained a reputation as a tough administrator. He sacked longtime executives and managers of Consumer Affairs boards that license and regulate professionals ranging from doctors to funeral home owners. Conran garnered headlines by leading an overhaul of the Medical Board of California, which had been accused of lax regulation of doctors. He also initiated an investigation of Sears auto repair operations that led to an $8-million settlement with the giant retailer.

* Family: Married, two children

*

CHUCK QUACKENBUSH

* Age: 40

* Residence: Cupertino

* Current position: Assembly member

* Education: Bachelor's degree,University of Notre Dame.

* Career highlights: Quackenbush is an assemblyman from Cupertino, a seat he has held since 1986. He came to politics after he and his wife founded a company that supplied temporary workers, primarily to Silicon Valley firms. In the Assembly, he holds a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

* Family: Married, three children

*

BURT MARGOLIN

* Age: 43

* Residence: Los Angeles

* Current position: Assembly member

* Education: Attended UCLA

* Career highlights: Margolin got his start in politics by working as a legislative aide for Democratic Rep. Henry A. Waxman in Washington, and Howard L. Berman when Berman was an assemblyman. A liberal with a pro-consumer voting record, Margolin is regarded as a hard-working but low-profile lawmaker. He has taken a lead role in health insurance, offering bills that prohibit insurance companies from writing polices that exclude existing conditions, and establishing a program by which small businesses can pool their resources to buy coverage for their employees. He carried several bills involving workers' compensation insurance, but his attempt to fashion a workers' compensation overhaul in 1992 fell apart, in part because of insurance opposition.

* Family: Married, two children

*

ART TORRES

* Age: 47

* Residence: Los Angeles

* Current position: State senator

* Education: Bachelor's degree, UC Santa Cruz; law degree, UC Davis

* Career highlights: As a lawyer from the Eastside, Torres got his start in politics working for United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez, although the two had a falling out when Torres voted against then-Assemblyman Howard L. Berman, Chavez's choice to become Speaker in 1980. Torres is among the most stirring orators in the Senate, works long hours and is known as an intelligent lawmaker capable of striking compromises. He is a liberal who, in years past, often was mentioned as someone who could become governor. He faltered in his personal life, twice being convicted of drunk driving. After his 1990 conviction, he entered a recovery program. He no longer drinks and speaks openly about his recovery. In 1991, Torres lost a bitter campaign for Los Angeles County supervisor to Gloria Molina, who once worked for him. As chairman of the Senate Insurance Committee, Torres held widely televised hearings last year on the pay-at-the-pump auto insurance plan by which all motorists would pay for insurance through added gasoline costs. He endorsed the plan, but it died for lack of support.

* Family: Divorced, two children

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