Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has dropped plans to pursue a ballot measure that would have allowed police to seize the license plates from – and eventually impound – cars driven by those without auto insurance.

Poizner, a Republican considered a likely candidate for governor in 2010, launched the initiative late last year, arguing that the law was needed to force the estimated quarter of California drivers who drive without insurance to buy coverage.

But Poizner said in an interview that he wants to “exhaust all other possibilities first” before trying to go to the ballot with those more punitive efforts.

“I am going to focus on the enforcement mechanisms built into the current law,” Poizner said. “Those haven’t been fully, completely tested and enforced yet and I want to start there first. I want to try all avenues before pursuing what was contained in that ballot initiative.”

Poizner’s decision to drop the uninsured motorist measure comes after the Greenlining Institute, an advocacy group for low-income and minority residents, sent a blistering letter to Poizner promising heated opposition and demanding he withdraw the measure.
“If the initiative qualifies and has the chance to be fully vetted by the public, you will likely face the opposition of law enforcement, civil rights groups, minority voters (Latinos, African-American and Asian-Americans), low income workers, immigrants, and voters in general who will not be swayed by polarizing racial politics,” read the Greenlining letter, sent on Friday.

Samuel Kang, a signer of the letter and legal counsel for the institute, welcomed the measure’s demise. He said Poizner was using the working poor “as stepping stones to increase his profile to run for state office.”

Poizner, a politically moderate multimillionaire, spent millions of his own fortune to win his post in 2006. He spent another $2.5 million of his own money to help defeat Proposition 93, the term limits measure on the Feb. 5 ballot, earning praise from conservative activists in the state.

Poizner said charges that his future political plans played any role in the uninsured motorist measure are “just nonsense.” He said his main goal is to expand auto insurance coverage in the state.

To that end, he pledged to continue to promote the state’s Low Cost Auto Insurance program.

“One of the most important things I can do is to expand that program,” Poizner said.

“One of the key problems with why people don’t buy auto insurance,” he said, is “a lot of people who come from low-income families believe they can’t afford it.”