Former Surf City Mayor, State Insurance Commissioner Candidate Wes Bannister Dies

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Wes Bannister
Wes Bannister, who'd been a Huntington Beach city councilman and mayor and ran unsuccessfully three times for state Insurance Commissioner, died last night after a lengthy illness. He was 73.

Clockwork recalls Bannister as one of those Republicans not generally found in Orange County. The French pronounce them, le moderates.

A mark of what kind of man Bannister was is found in the condolences that came from newly elected Rep. John Garamendi (D-Fairfield), who defeated Bannister for California Insurance Commissioner in 2002.

"One of the real joys of a political campaign is to have an opponent that you not only respect but come to value as a close and dear friend," said Garamendi, who was lieutenant governor before his election to Congress in November. "Wes was one of a kind. For more than 20 years I knew Wes as an extraordinary leader not only in the insurance community but on water policy and recycling. He helped to create the recycling that is so critical to California's future. I will miss him greatly and I join his family and friends in mourning his passing."

Bannister almost escaped Weekly snark, not really appearing in our pages on online until we  handicapped the race for the Republican nomination he eventually won in 2002: "A local in the insurance biz, Wes Bannister of Huntington Beach, is running in this race, as is unknown businessman Gary Mendoza, but anyone who could persuade the secretary of state to include the nickname "Watchdog" [Stefan Stitch] on the ballot is obviously a can-do guy worthy of your vote. Besides, whichever of these guys wins will lose badly to the high-powered Democrats seeking the office forever disgraced by Republican Chuck Quackenbush."

Bannister also ran unsuccessfully in the first election for Insurance Commissioner, in 1990, and again in 2002.

"I am deeply saddened by Wes' death," said California's current Insurance Commissioner, Steve Poizner. "My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time. Wes made the historic run to be California's first elected Insurance Commissioner and he nearly made it. He broke new ground and helped to set the standard for all future campaigns for Insurance Commissioner.

"I knew and appreciated Wes as someone I could count on to tell me what he really thought and why about any subject," Poizner continued. ". . . He had that rare down home ability to understand things and to be able to explain them in a way everyone could understand. He will be sadly missed by us all."

Bannister graduated from Sweeney High School in Texas and thereafter studied at Kemper Military School in Missouri He studied and graduated from West Point and later went on to study and graduate from the University of Houston. That's where he met his wife, Elizabeth Ann Rogers. They married at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1959. Bannister served as a captain in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged. 

He went on to work in the insurance business for 40 years, having started a Huntington Beach agency in 1974. He was elected to the Huntington Beach City Council in 1986 and eventually became mayor of what was then California's 11th largest city. He left the council in 1990.

The governor appointed Bannister to the 10-member Governing Committee of the California Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) plan, where he is said to have worked feverishly to secure claims for those who had lost their belongings to wildfires in Julian and other California areas prone to fire.

He also served as chairman to the 37 member board of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), the largest water agency in the world with an annual budget of $2 billion. Bannister championed water recycling while at the MWD.

He was surrounded by his family when he passed away. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann Bannister; his children Alice Elizabeth Bannister and Douglas Mastin Bannister, daughter-n-law Kristie Diane Lundquist Bannister, and grandchildren Kaitlyn Michelle Bannister and Brent Douglas Bannister. Another daughter, Catherine Ann Bannister Paugh, died in 1997.

The family requests that those wishing to honor Bannister's life contribute to the Julian Medical Foundation.

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