The exclusive Q&A with Chuck Quackenbush

In writing today’s story about disgraced former California politicians, I reached out to former Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, who resigned in 2000 amid talk of impeachment – and he answered.

Chuck QuackenbushFor any who don’t recall, Quackenbush was a rising Republican star, in his second term as Insurance Commissioner after eight years in the Assembly. But eyebrows climbed when he transferred $565,000 — much of which came from insurers he regulated — from his campaign into his wife’s failed state Senate run, so she could use some of the money to repay herself cash she had loaned her campaign. Then the Legislature began probing his practice of dropping investigations against insurers who’d mishandled claims from 1994’s Northridge quake if they paid into “educational foundations” he created; he was accused of using foundation funds for political self-promotion. Forsaken by fellow Republicans, he resigned in June 2000, a day before he was to testify to the Assembly.

Click here for the account of his resignation by the Los Angeles Times, which had done the stories that sparked the investigations; click here for a chronology of events provided by the Insurance Journal.

A sheriff’s deputy in Lee County, Fla., since June 2005, Quackenbush responded to several questions via e-mail last week.

1.) What made you choose to resign? Do you regret having done so?
“The Republicans in the Legislature were afraid and caved to the media frenzy. The Leadership would not stand with me and give me the support I needed to get the time to change the template of the story with the facts. It is the enduring weakness of the Republican party that they will allow themselves to be picked off at will like this and not stand together. When your political allies desert you under fire, even firing on you in order to gain transitory media favor, you have nowhere to go. I regret I had no other choice at the time. My experience is in marked contrast to what happens when allegations are raised about a Democrat. Everybody circles the wagons and gives the person the benefit of the doubt letting things sort themselves out. The Kevin Shelly controversy is a case in point.”

2.) In retrospect, do you believe there were any problems with the establishment and operation of the education foundations that were at the center of the accusations against you? Are there things you’d have done differently?
“The foundations were designed to be an innovative and efficient way to address two priorities of my second term: reaching out to underserved communities along with educating and informing the public about insurance. The one thing I would change would have been to monitor and direct disbursement of funds more closely. My style was to delegate significant responsibilities to subordinates. That practice had always served me well and I had been persuaded (wrongly) there would be trouble if it was perceived I was directing independent foundations. It set up an opportunity for a trusted subordinate to grossly mismanage the operations and steal. I would advise any elected official to very closely monitor the flow of any funds associated with their name. You cannot disassociate your self from it when things go awry.”

Chuck Quackenbush in happier times, with Newt Gingrich (from chuckquackenbush.org)

3.)How do you feel about the way in which the Legislature treated you? The media?
“The print media was almost universally hostile toward me from my primary election victory in 1994. Their near hysterical obsession with my political contributions from many industry sources never abated and there was little positive coverage over the years with all the successes I had promised during the campaign as a result of implementing free market principles. Ignored was the positive effect of the California Earthquake Authority, falling insurance rates, or the record enforcement actions we took against several carriers. Obviously, the media was on a vendetta in 2000 when they learned of the irregularities in the Foundation operations. They quickly began to harmonize and basically kept reprinting the same stories. On cue, they would also jump to a new twist such as eroding Republican support or speculation on criminal investigations. The Democrats in the Legislature saw an irresistible opportunity: They had a chance to eliminate the strongest Republican officeholder in the state and make Republican officeholders look weak. They worked hand in glove with the media to accomplish both these political goals. After that, except for the previously mentioned Deputy, no investigation could find anybody in my Administration had committed an illegal act and all civil lawsuits against me were dismissed with prejudice by the courts.”

4.) You’ve started a career in law enforcement, another form of public service. Do you ever see yourself trying to return to elected office?
“Law enforcement is a calling I had long admired. It shares the same selfless principles of the military where I grew up and later served as an officer. Putting on the uniform and heading out into the streets to serve and protect is an honor for which I am very thankful. My experience in politics has helped me in the job. I believe little of what I am first told and always look for corroborating evidence. I am beyond even the old Reagan saying, “Trust but verify.” I am still involved in Republican politics here in Florida supporting candidates and speaking on the issues, but have no immediate plans to run for any office. However, the spark for politics has never gone out…”