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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Quackenbushes are in denial

By David Shapiro

Now that they're insinuated into Hawai'i Republican politics, Chuck and Chris Quackenbush are suddenly shy about publicity over the massive political scandal that drove them from California.

The Quackenbushes moved here in 2000 after he resigned as California insurance commissioner under threat of impeachment for deriving personal gain at the expense of Northridge earthquake victims.

After carefully courting attention, the couple now says scrutiny of their troubled past is politically motivated.

Hawai'i voters should pay close attention to this story, particularly Chuck Quackenbush's remorseless refusal to admit responsibility.

Chris Quackenbush, once a candidate for office herself, has been more publicly visible in Hawai'i, leading a campaign against animal quarantine.

Chuck Quackenbush has operated backstage as a confidant to Hawai'i's Republican lawmakers.

Chris Quackenbush claims her husband was the victim of a "smear campaign" by California's "political machine" and head-hunting journalists.

"This irresponsible journalism discourages honest people from serving in government, where only the crooks seem to survive in Hawai'i," she wrote to the Honolulu Weekly.

Chuck Quackenbush told The Advertiser, "I was completely exonerated of any allegation of wrongdoing."

The public record in California doesn't support this.

Charges weren't fully adjudicated only because Quackenbush resigned and moved to Hawai'i before he was impeached.

In the Northridge scandal, Quackenbush let insurance companies escape hundreds of millions in fines for underpaying earthquake claims after they contributed $12 million to foundations he controlled.

The foundations paid for ads and polls to promote Quackenbush's political ambitions, and $263,000 went to a football camp attended by Quackenbush's sons.

In another controversy, Quackenbush moved $565,000 of his political contributions to his wife's account to cover loans she made to her losing 1998 California Senate race. The transfers, which did not violate California law, allowed them to pay off a $456,000 mortgage on their home.

A bipartisan committee of the California Legislature, where Quackenbush once served, charged that he subverted regulatory processes in Northridge, denied some earthquake victims redress and misused state and insurance money. When the wrongdoing was exposed, the committee said, he covered up.

California Sen. Jack Scott, who chaired the committee, told The Advertiser it's "a whitewash" for Quackenbush to suggest he was exonerated. "The truth was that he resigned because it was clear that he would have been impeached."

Quackenbush has every right to move on with his life, but he can't expect to resume a political career — whether as an elected official, a public advocate or a behind-the-scenes operative — as though nothing happened in California.

He says he won't run for office again; however, his wife describes him as "just the kind of man Hawai'i needs."

He was denied a position with the GOP Legislative PAC, but Minority Leader Galen Fox welcomed him into the House Republican caucus to advise GOP lawmakers.

He's become personally close to several Republican legislators as he sets up a consulting firm for public advocacy.

Local Republicans need to fill ranks so thin that they were unable to field credible candidates for half of the state Senate races last year. But embracing that newcomer tests the character of a party that won the governorship on allegations of Democratic corruption.

Quackenbush boasts of helping to write California's "three strikes" law to crack down on repeat offenders. He abused his public trust for personal gain, turned his back on victims of a devastating earthquake and misused campaign funds.

California investigator Jeffrey Schwartz asks a fair question: How many strikes does Quackenbush get before he's out?

David Shapiro can be reached at dave@volcanicash.net.