State, Local Offices on the Line

Times Staff Writer

Three established Capitol Democrats are trying to win their party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, normally an office that attracts little drama.

While state Sen. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough has been racking up newspaper endorsements -- 13 so far -- Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi has garnered attention for his allegation that insurance companies are trying to sink his candidacy.

The companies oppose new regulations that he is trying to impose on the industry, and Garamendi has asked the FBI to investigate what he labeled “extortion.”


The industry has a $2-million ad campaign that it says is intended only to block new auto insurance rate rules, not Garamendi’s political future.

Having raised twice as much money as Garamendi, Speier has established a presence on television with commercials that feature her near-death experience in the 1978 Jonestown massacre in Guyana, where as a visiting congressional aide she was shot five times.

Her ads state that the shooting instilled a carpe diem attitude that carried over into her legislative work, which is touted in a separate ad.

The third Democrat, state Sen. Liz Figueroa of Fremont, is lagging in fundraising and limiting her television commercials to 15-second spots that highlight her role in expanding state health insurance for children.

Her campaign is being aided by the California Chiropractic Assn., which has spent $20,000 to help her.

Figueroa supported efforts in the Senate to prevent other healthcare professions from expanding into chiropractors’ turf.

Garamendi’s friends and allies, meanwhile, are trying to pull together money to run ads on his behalf, to help counter the insurers’ attacks on the candidate.


“The [industry] ads are clearly intended to hurt him in his campaign,” said Paul Kinney, a Democratic consultant leading the effort.

Garamendi is preparing to air his own ads beginning today in Los Angeles, citing the insurers’ attacks as evidence of his integrity.

The ads also fault Speier for accepting “hundreds of thousands in contributions from insurance companies and Enron.”

The bankrupt former energy trading firm gave Speier $5,000 in 2000.

A Speier spokesman, Nathan Ballard, said Speier “could not be bought no matter who has contributed to her campaign.”

Ballard accused Garamendi of hypocrisy for saying he had never taken insurance industry contributions although he accepted $20,000 in 1994.

Garamendi returned the money after being criticized for it in 2002.

The winner of the primary is expected to face Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks in November.