The Public Interest

How not to reform auto insurance

Jonathan D. Youngwood & Ross E. Cheit

Summer 1991

THE 1989 earthquake in San Francisco was not the worst thing to hit California insurers in the last few years. A ballot initiative was. Proposition 103, a radical measure designed to slash insurance rates by at least 20 percent, was placed on the state’s 1988 ballot by “Voter Revolt,” an organization affiliated with Ralph Nader. Three other competing insurance initiatives were subsequently put on the ballot, and insurance dominated the California election that year. Spending on the four initiatives eclipsed state-level campaign spending for either the presidential or senatorial races. Roxani Gillespie, the state insurance commissioner at the time, warned that Proposition 103 might affect insurance companies so severely that it would force the state to enter the insurance market. She predicted that thirty-five of California’s 372 auto insurers would go bankrupt within two years.

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