Bustamante Hopes to Win Insurance Post by Losing

Times Staff Writer

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante is hoping his considerable girth will give his campaign for state insurance commissioner a little weight.

His recipe for winning: Shed pounds by racing around California collecting multicolored bibs in community 5Ks and post the results online.

"I want to become an example to others to lead healthier lives by losing weight myself," Bustamante exhorted in his campaign statement in the information guide sent to voters for the June 6 primary. "Fighting the obesity epidemic will lower insurance costs."

But there's a missing ingredient. The lieutenant governor's current weight, and documentation of his progress in shedding pounds -- or not -- isn't sprinkled among the nutrition and fitness information and weight loss tips on his campaign website at www.startwithcruz.com.

Bustamante, a Democrat, has said publicly that he weighed 278 pounds in January and his initial goal was to lose 50 pounds. He tipped the scale at 235 pounds April 30, his staff said.

"They're looking at a situation where they don't have any real money running against a guy who can clearly fund whatever level he wants," said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic strategist. "This is a quirky, but sort of an interesting, attention-getting thing. But you have to really do it. You have to get out there and have some measurement to follow."

In the fall, Bustamante is likely to face Republican Steve Poizner, a Los Gatos technology millionaire who has never held public office, in a race for an office that regulates a $119-billion industry. He faces Democratic businessman John Kraft in June.

The lieutenant governor had raised a little under $800,000 as of May 4, compared to about $3 million raised by Poizner. About 20% of Bustamante's contributions were from companies the commissioner regulates. Poizner has said he won't accept donations from insurance firms.

Poizner's representatives said the light fare on Bustamante's campaign site is an attempt to divert voters' attention from the contributions he's accepted from insurance companies and his lack of qualifications to run the state's Department of Insurance.

"He has a huge negative because he takes insurance company money for a regulatory office," said Wayne Johnson, a spokesman for Poizner's campaign. "So how does he shift the issues away from that?"

In contrast, Poizner's website, at www.joinsteve.com, gives voters a little more to chew on, including a primer on the insurance commissioner's duties and a list of his endorsements.

Bustamante, who apparently is the author of several recipes on his site, including "Cruzin in the Tropics" and "Berry Bustamante," could not be reached for comment Friday.

The weight loss shtick has helped other politicians attract voters' attention.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee gained popularity over the last few years by conducting a very public dieting effort. Huckabee, who is exploring a run for president in 2008, shed 120 pounds off his 300-pound frame after his doctor warned him he would die if he didn't lose weight.

In California, pundits couldn't resist dishing out some advice for Bustamante's opponent.

"Poizner looks a little too thin to me, maybe they ought to have a rival campaign, maybe he should bulk up," Carrick joked. "Then we would have a supply-side Republican versus a fiscally disciplined Democrat."

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