Clovis Republican Mike Villines appeared to be on his way to a November showdown with an old Assembly colleague in the race to be California insurance commissioner.
Through 17% of the vote count, Villines held about a four-percentage point lead over Brian FitzGerald for the GOP nomination according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The early totals were surprisingly close. FitzGerald, a state Department of Insurance enforcement lawyer, spent less than $5,000 on his campaign. Villines, by contrast, has raised more than $1 million, including significant donations from corporations and business groups.
Villines is trying to become just the third Fresno-area politician to ever win a statewide constitutional office.
Dave Jones of Sacramento held a comfortable 32-point margin over Hector De La Torre for the Democratic nomination.
Villines and Jones are each termed out of the Assembly. They’re vying to replace Steve Poizner, who didn’t seek a second term as he tried unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for governor.
Villines was elected to the Assembly in 2004. He became Assembly leader in 2006 but stepped down in 2009 amid pressure from anti-tax conservatives, who blasted him for supporting new taxes in that year’s budget deal.
The insurance commissioner’s office is responsible for regulating insurers at a time of great change and heightened scrutiny for health care coverage.
The commissioner will play a pivotal role in monitoring how the new federal health care reform law is implemented and investigating insurance companies such as Anthem Blue Cross. The Los Angeles-based insurer withdrew its plans for rate hikes by as much as 39% on its California customers after an independent audit determined the company’s proposal was based on flawed data.