California Insurance Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Steven Poizner.
HH: Even though this is a national show heard from Anchorage down to Florida, from Hawaii up to New York and everywhere in between, I know you know it’s from California that I originate, and it’s in California that the future of the economic vitality of the United States resides. The Golden State leads us when we grow, it leads us into recession when we contract. One of the five or six people who will be the successor to Arnold in Sacramento is Steve Poizner. He is the insurance commissioner of California right now, a very successful entrepreneur, said to be a billionaire, had a lot to do with GPS on your cell phone. I welcome him for the first time to the program. Commissioner Poizner, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
SP: Thanks, Hugh.
HH: What was it that you invented that’s in the cell phones that made you all your money?
SP: Well, I’ve started several companies in Silicon Valley, but my last one was called Snaptrack, where we did figure out a way to embed a global positioning satellite receiver onto a cell phone chip so that when you dial 911 from the cell phone, the emergency operators will know where you’re calling from. It did turn out to be an important feature, of course, about 700 million cell phones have the feature. We’ve saved hundreds of lives with this technology, sold it to Qualcomm a few years ago, really proud of it.
HH: Yeah, this is basically why I am comfortable going into Yosemite now, is that I know they can find me. Well Steve Poizner, you want to be governor of California, and A) you had a big win as insurance commissioner today, I want to get to that. But the budget guys up in Sacramento along with Arnold have come out with a plan today. It’s a nightmare for this state. It’s going to drive productive people out of the state, people like you. I mean, why in the world would people like you stay in California when they’re raising the income tax, the sales tax, the gas taxes, the declining infrastructure. Why would they stay?
SP: Well, you just put you finger on the fundamental problem that policy makers in Sacramento just don’t get, that we’re in a very competitive global economy now. And California is losing the big race. I mean, we’ve gone from the 6th largest economy in the world five years ago to the 8th largest economy now. We are shrinking in size and losing market share at a rapid clip. 3,000 people a week, Hugh, pick up and leave the state of California. These are taxpayers just moving to Nevada, Arizona, India and China. We are completely out of sync. And the deal that was cut today in Sacramento, the budget deal, is a terrible, terrible decision on the part of those folks in our state’s capitol here. It only makes matters worse. Our economy is suffering because we’re so out of sync already. Our unemployment rate is two points higher than the national unemployment rate. To raise taxes by $14 billion dollars is a monumental, colossal big mistake.
HH: Now Steve Poizner, I’m an optimist. I believe that American technology and Americans ingenuity and just American entrepreneurial excellence will solve the recession in three to six months like it always does. There’s a business cycle. But I think the rest of the country’s going to come out of it ahead of California. Do you agree with that?
SP: I do agree with that. I do think the rest of the country is actually in much better shape than California. You know, California’s a pretty special place. I mean, it’s been a magnet for innovators and entrepreneurs for a couple hundred years. But in the last thirty to forty years, we’ve been in a state of decline because of overregulation, over-taxation, a deteriorating public school system, and infrastructure that is all clogged up and decaying. We really need to reform the way this state is run. Unfortunately, it was designed 150 years ago before the Civil War when we had just 90,000 people. We need to completely modernize state government. Look what I’ve done at the Department of Insurance, though. So there’s reasons to be hopeful. If you have the determination and the tenacity, you can get things done in state government. You can right size it, you can make it more efficient. At the Department of Insurance, I started with 1,300 employees. We oversee the entire insurance markets in California which are huge. Now I have about 1,150 employees. We did a 10% permanent cut in our cost structure by right sizing and looking for efficiencies. And then I passed on these savings in the form of about $15 million dollars in fee cuts that fund my agency back into the California economy. I did that about a couple of weeks ago. There’s no reason in the world that you can’t do the same kinds of things throughout the entire state government. We should demand that. And the notion of sending in more tax money into the state government that already collects about $100 billion a year is just a big, big mistake. It’s just going to hurt our economy, not get us out of a mess.
HH: Now Steve Poizner, I’ve been doing journalism in California for 20 years. We’ve never met, first time we’ve ever talked. And so I don’t know anything about you other than you’ve had a good run as insurance commissioner, and my audience doesn’t. And of course, Republicans across the country are saying hey, this guy sounds pretty good. Where are you on the social issues?
SP: Well, I’m a libertarian, mainly. I am, I pretty much want to keep government out of people’s private lives. But with that said, I’m a big supporter of traditional marriage, because that’s just the right thing to do.
HH: Did you vote for Prop 8?
SP: I did.
SP: I do think that marriage should be defined between a man and a woman. I’m fine with domestic partnerships and all. That’s just fine. That’s government staying out of people’s private lives. But marriage is a sacred thing, and the voters of the state of California have voted now not once but twice to define marriage between a man and a woman. And to be honest with you, Hugh, what really makes me angry these days is people like Jerry Brown, who’s going to be running for governor, by the way, I’ll probably be running against him. You’re…likely talking to the Republican nominee right here, and I’m going to be running against Jerry Brown. And what he’s doing as attorney general should make all law abiding folks around the country really mad. He’s actually suing the voters of the state of California, challenging their right to change our own constitution.
HH: All right, now Steve, I guess if you’re going to be the nominee, I should get this in early, a commitment to be on your short list for Supreme Court nominees for me. Is that okay?
SP: Well, I’ll tell you, Hugh, I’m going to be looking for the very best and brightest people to appoint. That’s one of the most important things I’ll do as governor is to appoint judges that understand about the basics of being a strict interpretation of the law, and not to legislate from the bench. That’ll be key.
HH: I guess that’s a yes then? I’ll put you down as a yes on that. You know, Arnold made me the state Sommelier, so I’m looking for something out of this. Now Steve Poizner, what about abortion? Are you a pro-choice guy?
SP: I am a pro-choice guy in one sense. I don’t believe that California is going to outlaw abortions anytime soon. Now I’m against abortions, and I want to work with people on all sides of this issue to drive the number of abortions down to zero. I do oppose late term abortions completely. I have supported and continue to support parental notification. Those are just common sense issues here. But this state’s not ready to outlaw them tomorrow. Instead, we need much more aggressive education programs to get people to understand that abortions really are a bad thing.
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HH: By the way, three questions, Mr. Poizner. How much of your own money, minimum, are you going to spend on this gubernatorial campaign?
SP: Well, first of all, I’m going to make sure my campaign is completely and totally fully funded. But with that said, I believe in having a large fundraising base. People who self-fund campaign lose. And so I’m going to have a large group of financial supporters. But I’ll make sure at the end of the day, we’re going to get our message out aggressively.
HH: I used to talk to Governor Romney about this, and he was a billionaire running, and he was always shy about this. But I found that the audience always penalized people who aren’t at least specific to an order of magnitude. Are you going to put in at least $50 million bucks?
SP: Well you know, I’m just going to say that I’ll make sure that my campaign’s fully funded. After I raise as much money as we can, we’ll make up the difference, we’ll do what we need to do.
HH: Now about Meg Whitman and Tom Campbell, I just saw Tom yesterday, teaches at Chapman where I teach Con Law, and he is looking forward to a lot of debates between you and he and Meg Whitman. Are you willing and ready to go anywhere at any time to debate those two?
SP: Anywhere, anytime. Tom Campbell’s a great man. And Meg Whitman has fantastic experiences, too. We’ll all very different. My experiences are really pretty distinct. I have twenty years of experience starting and running companies in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur. But at the same time, I have now six or seven years of experience in the trenches being very effective in the public sector. You know, I was in the White House during the 9/11 crisis, in the National Security Council, I taught for a year in the public schools and saw really the terrible conditions of our California public schools. And now I’ve been an elected Republican leader for two years of only one of eight elected statewide leaders. I would be happy to debate any Republican candidate, anytime, any place.
HH: Well then, within the next couple of weeks, we’re going to get you and Tom, and we’ll extend an invitation to Meg Whitman as well to come and spend an entire show with me – three hours doing wonk talk, because I think the country wants to know what’s happened in California. And between you and Tom Campbell, I think that’ll be fascinating, and we’ll try and get Meg Whitman in. We’ve got a minute, Insurance Commissioner Poizner. What did you do the bigs today? You got them to stop dropping people with bad health problems, right?
SP: That’s exactly right. As insurance commissioner, I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure that health insurance companies fulfill their obligations, their legal obligations to policy holders. A bunch of the big ones, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, they were cancelling people’s health insurance right in the middle of the term, after they started using their health insurance for legitimate reasons. That’s just wrong, and I reached an agreement today with Blue Cross, the largest player here in California, to stop doing that, and to reinstate the insurance of over 2,300 people that they cancelled improperly.
HH: Well done, Commissioner Steve Poizner.
End of interview.