Poizner: I Have the Resources to Win in California

Saturday, 20 Feb 2010 01:57 PM

By Kenneth R. Timmerman

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California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a former businessman who entered politics eight years ago, has made as his signature issue an initiative to get California insurance companies to divest from companies doing business in Iran. Newsmax asked Poizner about his initiative during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.

How has your initiative with the insurance companies been received in California?

There’s been broad-based support from consumers, who were pretty surprised and horrified that some of the policy money that they pay for their auto insurance and homeowners insurances is winding up in Iran. So there’s been lots of support from consumers for what I’m doing, to make sure that insurance companies don’t invest in Iran, directly or indirectly.

The insurance companies have pushed back. They don’t want the oversight. They think they should be able to invest anywhere they want – including Iran. They have a $4 trillion investment portfolio. We’ve identified $6 billion – that’s not much compared to their entire investment portfolio, but it’s a big chunk compared to the Iranian economy. We’ve identified 50 companies that these insurance companies are invested in. These are companies that are doing business in Iran’s nuclear, military or defense sectors. Some of them are supplying arms to Iran. They can do better than that.

What are the insurance companies saying back to you? That they’re not involved? Or that you are out of line?

The typical push back is, let the federal government do that, it’s a foreign policy matter. My view on that is, hang on a second. My job is to oversee the insurance companies’ investment portfolios. I’m a risk evaluator. And my assessment is that these investments in Iran’s nuclear or military or energy sectors are indeed risky. My job is to make some conclusions about the proper investments insurance companies should hold. After all, when somebody turns in a legitimate [insurance] claim, there had better be money there. I think these investments are risky. And they should find somewhere else to park this money. It wouldn’t take much for them to do it. And it’s just the right thing to do.

We as a country must unite around the notion that we must put maximum pressure on Iran to get that Iranian regime to change its behavior. We know they’re a huge threat to their own people, to their neighbors, and to the national security of this country. We have to do everything we can short of unleashing the military – and there may be only a military option coming up. But I hope not. But that’s why I have to do whatever I can as insurance commissioner to put pressure. The federal government are not doing everything they can. I’m in a position where I can put some additional pressure here, and also protect California consumers.

You’re running against big money. You’re running against a woman who’s committing over $100 million of her personal fortune to run for governor. That’s a daunting task. How do you do that?

There have been a lot of people in California who have run for governor in California, wealthy business people, that have done extremely poorly. You just can’t buy the race. I have a decent amount in my campaign coffers, too. We have closer to $18 million cash on hand. It’s not as if we don’t have all the resources we need to get the word out. It’s not an auction, where the winner is the one who spends the most. We have all the resources we need to be aggressive, and we will.

This race will be decided not based on who spends the most money, because both of us are pretty well funded. This race is going to be decided on which one of us is really conservative. Voters in California who are going to vote in the primary are looking for a conservative with a track record. That’s not Meg Whitman. She’s not voted for most of her life. She hasn’t been a Republican until recently. She was campaigning for Barbara Boxer just a few years ago. Now I’m a lifelong Republican. I’m the only other elected Republican in California right now, so I have a lot of experience in politics

You and Chuck [Assemblyman Chuck DeVore] …


I was referring to Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger. Some people think there’s only one Republican statewide, but in any case, I’ve run companies for 20 years, know how to create jobs. Now I’ve been successful in politics for eight years. So I have that mix of experiences, that problem-solving set of experiences with a conservative set of principles that’s going to appeal to Republican primary voters. My job in the next few months is to make sure they know about me. I’ve got the resources and the team around me to make that happen, to make sure that every Republican primary knows about me, and how I differ from Meg Whitman.

You mention Schwarzenegger. Are you in contact with his office? Has he given you any help at all, or has he been standoffish?

I have a pretty decent working relationship with the governor. On the wildfires, we’ve had to work together on insurance issues. But he hasn’t played any role in this primary, and I don’t expect that he will.

How has been on this Iran issue?

Supportive. He issued a press release saying exactly the right thing.

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