Three vie to replace Controller Chiang

Three vie to replace Controller Chiang

California Controller SealThree established California politicians — each from a different region of the state — are asking voters to give them control of the state’s checkbook.

Two Democrats, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, and one Republican, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, are the leading contenders to succeed John Chiang, who is termed out as State Controller. The candidates face a tall order in replacing Chiang. After eight years in the position, he has earned praise for his work to bring more transparency to California’s finances.

This is the first year the controller’s race will operate under the new Top Two Primaries system. Candidates can run from any party, or no party; and parties are reduced only to endorsements. The top two vote-getters on June 3 then will face off in the November general election.

Yee: 30 years’ experience

With 30 years of public-service experience, specializing in finance and tax policy, Yee is the natural successor to Chiang. Yee represents the Bay Area on the state Board of Equalization. That also is one of several boards that the controller serves as an ex-officio member. She says she’ll continue her work to be a responsible steward of the state’s finances, especially as the state faces a growing retirement bill.

“Retirement security is becoming a major worry for Americans and Californians as the national and state economies slowly climb from the stock market meltdown and housing collapse defining the Great Recession that began in the latter half of 2007,” Yee says of her priorities.

Her experience, going back to her days at the Department of Finance, has won her support from prominent state officials and political activists.

“Betty consistently has been on the front line as a civil rights and human rights leader,” said Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers. “The voice that she has carried for those unheard will be the voice of fairness she will bring to the office of Controller, where she will be a caring leader watching for the interests of Californians.”

Perez with fundraising lead

Southern California’s Perez cites his work in the state Legislature as evidence that he can help lead California’s economic “turnaround.”

“I want to run for controller so I can be involved in enforcing the level of fiscal discipline and stability that I’ve worked so hard to create with my colleagues and the governor,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

With $1.8 million in the bank as of the mid-May filing deadline, Perez has plenty of money to share his message with voters. He’s already spent $838,000, dwarfing the campaign spending of all his competitors. His remaining funds will be spent on a recently launched television ad, “Turnaround.”

“Gridlock, teacher layoffs and a $60 billion dollar budget deficit — that’s what John Perez faced when he became speaker of the California Assembly,” a female narrator says in the ad. “So he partnered with Gov. Brown to pass three balanced budgets on time for the first time in 30 years.”

Swearengin: Selling her mixed record in Fresno

In addition to Perez, Swearengin is selling herself as a turnaround artist based on her record in the Central Valley.

Mayor Swearengin guided the City through the economic crisis, overcoming a cumulative $120 million operating shortfall and avoiding bankruptcy,” the GOP candidate says of “The Fresno Story” on her campaign website. “As Mayor, Ashley Swearengin aligned City Hall behind a vision and strategy for growing private sector jobs.”

But her record in Fresno also includes a record of secrecy and contentious fights with taxpayers. As previously reported here at, Fresno is in the middle of a bitter dispute over the city’s water rates. Last year, the city refused to issue a title and summary for a referendum to overturn the mayor’s water rate hikes. Then, the city sued the taxpayers to prevent the initiative from entering circulation. The city says that the ongoing lawsuit is necessary to fulfill its responsibility to provide water to residents.

To date, the city has spent $232,000 in legal bills to stop the petition. Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, described the city’s lawsuit as “a foolish and wholly unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer funds.”

Minor candidates factor in June race

Though not expected to make the run-off, three minor party candidates could be a factor in what’s expected to be a close race. Laura Wells, a Green Party activist and Bay Area financial analyst, wants to “implement a State Bank and tax the super-rich the way we did decades ago.” A perennial candidate, Wells earned 400,000 votes when she ran for the post in 2002. That was the highest vote count of any Green Party candidate in a partisan statewide race in California’s history.

Two lesser-known major party candidates could affect the race. Running “to assure accountability,” Tammy Blair, a Los Angeles Democrat who has 25 years of general business administration and financial management experience, could pull some Los Angeles-area votes from Perez, or female voters inclined to support Swearengin or Yee.

Likewise, David Evans, a Republican chief financial officer, campaigning to “rigorously pursue governmental abuse and waste of sacred taxpayer dollar,” could siphon off some GOP votes.

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