He ran for insurance commissioner, he was a mayor, insurance broker, and dedicated public servant but mostly he was a family man and friend. Wesley Mastin Bannister passed away at his home in Huntington Beach after a long illness. He was 73. According to his friends—and there were many—he was his “devious” self to the end. When a broken vertebra as the result of spinal cancer put him in a neck brace during his last week, he quipped: “Now I’m going to be in a neck brace for the rest of my life.”
His life was full of hard work, public service, and a healthy dose of politics. As an insurance broker, he was dedicated to his clients. Bannister Insurance started as a little upstairs office off of Brookhurst and Talbert in Fountain Valley. As it grew, it moved to Huntington Beach industrial park on Chemical Lane and was there until Nov 1997 when moved it to 17th Street in Huntington Beach where it is still located.
Wes’s ‘from the trenches’ knowledge of the insurance industry was second to none. He entered the state-wide spotlight when he ran as the Republican candidate for insurance commissioner—in 1990 and again in 1994.
He also dedicated his time to numerous boards and commissions and other elected offices – not the least of which was mayor of Huntington Beach.
Wes was born in Houston Texas in 1936 to John Howard Bannister and Catherine Holland Bannister. John Howard was an oil man and Catherine was a US Postmistress and genealogist in Sweeney/Old Ocean, Texas.
He attended Sweeney High School, Kemper Military School, West Point, and the University of Houston.
Wes met his wife Elizabeth Ann “Betty” Rogers, also from Houston, when he was a student at the University of Houston. They got eloped to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Wes and Betty moved to Midlane in Houston, then Littleton, Colorado then to Amarillo Texas, Albuquerque New Mexico, and finally to Huntington Beach in 1969.
He is survived by his wife, Betty, and two children Lisa aka Alice Elizabeth Bannister, and Douglas Mastin Bannister. Douglas married to Kristie Diane Lundquist Bannister in 1991. A third child, Catherine Ann Bannister Paugh, died in 1997. He was also blessed with two grandchildren: Kaitlyn Michelle Bannister and Brent Douglas Bannister.
A Busy and Successful Life
Wes served as a captain in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged. Insurance and public service became his life. After moving to Huntington Beach in 1969, he opened his brokerage in Huntington Beach in 1974. He did more than sell a product. He was dedicated to his customers developing products for them that fit their needs. He also managed the day-to-day and financial operations of the firm, now run by his children.
Wes was always involved. As a result of the wildfires a few years ago, he personally got involved and helped several families resolve their claims. He was active with the Julian Medical Foundation helping to get funding and programs in place for the small town. In 1987, Wes was appointed to the 10-member governing committee of the California Fair Plan, an insurance provider of last resort for homeowners in high fire-risk areas. Multiple Governors have reappointed him ever since.
His dedication to Huntington Beach was just as strong. Starting in 1986, he served as a city council member and mayor of Huntington Beach from 1989 to 1990. He also served as an elected official as one of the largest special districts in the United States. His crowning glory was perhaps his time spent on California’s water woes. He served as an elected official of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest water district in the world from 1993 to 2006. In 2005, he was elected chairman of the 37-member board where he oversaw 1,900 employees and a budget of $2 billion.
“Water is about as political as it gets,” Bannister told Workers’ Comp Executive in 2005. As the recent battles in Sacramento demonstrate, he was right.
Gilbert Ivey, assistant general manager and chief administrative officer for MWD, says Wes was adored for his hard work and vision.
“He was a tremendous leader and a visionary for sure. He clearly had views outside the box…to help push the water industry forward,” Ivey says. “He wanted to make the water district more responsive to the customers. He was quite a strategic thinker.
“His biggest push was trying to straighten out the Northern California water supply (the Bay Delta), making sure we had a reliable water supply for Southern California. He was very well liked and really cared about all the employees at the Metropolitan Water District,” Ivey says.
Race for Insurance Commissioner
Of all the offices he pursued, one eluded him: insurance commissioner. He ran in 1990 as a Republican, winning the primary and then losing narrowly to John Garamendi. He tried again in 1994, this time losing the primary to fellow republican Chuck “Chick” Quackenbush. Quackenbush would eventually resign in disgrace. In 2002, Wes threw his hat into the ring a third time, but unfortunately it was not the charm. He lost in the primary to Gary Mendoza.
“I knew and appreciated Wes as someone I could count on to tell me what he really thought and why about any subject,” Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner tells Workers’ Comp Executive. “Wes was a leader not only in California’s insurance issues but also in water policy. His knowledge of water issues helped to guide California water policy in a rational way.
“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,” Poizner says.
Wes was respected by his opponents on both sides. Industry sources speculated that because of Quackenbush, voters were leery of candidates associated with the industry, despite Wes’ impeccable credentials and honesty. Democrat Congressman and former insurance commissioner John Garamendi recognizes Bannister for just those traits:
“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,” Garamendi tells Workers’ Comp Executive. “Wes was one of a kind. For more than twenty 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.”