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Democrat Ricardo Lara defeats independent Steve Poizner for California insurance czar

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SACRAMENTO — Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara has defeated Republican-turned-independent Steve Poizner to become the state's next insurance commissioner, according to new vote totals Friday.

Vote counts updated since Election Day made Lara the winner with nearly 4.9 million votes, or 51.6 percent.

Lara will be California's first openly gay statewide officeholder. Poizner, a former insurance commissioner, would have been the first independent to win such an election.

Lara of Bell Gardens will head the Department of Insurance, which enforces insurance laws, licenses and regulates companies and investigates fraud, now that commissioner Dave Jones is termed out of the office.

Lara previously authored a failed bill that would have provided state-run health insurance and has said that remains a top priority.

Poizner of Los Gatos is a wealthy Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur who lost a bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010. He ran as an independent because he said the office should be free of politics, though both men promised not to take insurance money.

Lara's win leaves just one statewide race too close to call.

Assemblyman Tony Thurmond had a 74,000-vote lead over Los Angeles schools executive Marshall Tuck in the race to become the state's top public education official. Thurmond had nearly 4.3 million votes, or 50.4 percent.

Thurmond and Tuck are Democrats but the race is nonpartisan. Thurmond has the backing of powerful teachers unions while Tuck is supported by wealthy charter school and education reform proponents.

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