Novice Republican or Democrat embroiled in controversy? Voters to pick next insurance commissioner

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California voters will decide this November who will lead a state agency that wields significant power over home, auto and other insurance policies, selecting between an incumbent Democrat embroiled in controversy and his novice Republican challenger.

The state’s insurance commissioner regulates a $310-billion industry and is particularly influential in helping homeowners in wildfire-prone areas maintain their insurance. The regulator also has the power to approve or reject rate increases and investigate fraud.

Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Los Angeles, is widely favored to win the race in November, even as he faces criticism for accepting campaign donations from insurance executives during his first term as commissioner after pledging not to take industry money. Lara’s challenger, Robert Howell, is a cybersecurity equipment manufacturer who has never held public office and concedes he knows little about the insurance commissioner job or the industry he would be regulating.

“This position is the consumer champion for the largest consumer protection agency in the state,” Lara said. “And experience is critical, not only to address the issues of holding insurance companies accountable, but making sure that there is an advocate that is going to look out for every Californian.”

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