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San Francisco Chronicle
Jun 09, 2000

Quackenbush's Conduct Invites Impeachment

Chronicle Editorial
THE WAVE of condemning revelations of state Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush's conduct grows taller by the day. Penalty fines were steered to buff his image, checks possibly forged, and a foundation misused as a front for political advantage.

These are the charges laid out by associates during three days of detailed hearings by an Assembly panel. The testimony has moved the issue from scandal to possible impeachment.

This is no partisan shouting match. The inquiry has grown into a follow-the- money inquiry with both parties asking tough questions. Removal from office -- the legislators' ultimate weapon -- was broached by the senior Republican, Tom McClintock, on the legislative committee investigating Quackenbush, a GOP state officeholder.

All along, the commissioner has denied the charges that originated with his wrong- headed decision not to prosecute slow-to-pay insurers and instead request donations to a small educational foundation. His main defense is that the hearings are a witch-hunt to chase him off the political landscape.

But the more that is known, the worse it gets. A clown-car of deputies and aides ducked queries about responsibility for a variety of questionable decisions. ``There has been an incredible amount of memory loss,'' said Assembly member Rico Oller.

A political consultant recalled mapping out a TV campaign paid for by insurance firm penalties and designed with ample face time for the commissioner.

The latest detonation could be the most serious. A top Quackenbush aide forged or mishandled checks used in the publicity campaign, one insider testified yesterday. This has raised the stakes from misconduct to criminality.

The end result is a powerful office operating with no credibility or support. Insurance firms, once thankful for meager enforcement provided by Quackenbush, are now embarrassed and angry.

Policyholders are furious at the reports that Quackenbush siphoned off industry fines for self-promotion. None of the penalties have made it back to consumer wallets.

At the start of the scandal, GOP damage control experts suggested Quackenbush's conduct showed a low IQ. Democrats delighted in spotlighting his lapdog attitude toward insurers. Now the matter has lurched beyond these beginnings.

It's high time to weigh the findings of the Sacramento hearings. If Quackenbush misused public money and his powers of office as the current evidence suggests, then he is a candidate for impeachment.

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