SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On June 7, California voters will pick the top two contenders to appear on the November ballot for various races statewide.
One race that gets a lot of buzz is the state controller race. Four Democrats, a Republican and a Green Party member compete for California’s new Chief Financial Officer.
Incumbent Betty Yee is mentioned, but has given her blessing to Malia Cohen, who is the chair of the California State Board of Equalization.
“I think what sets me apart in this race is that not only do I understand the numbers and the budget for the state of California, and how the budget trickles down to the budget of the local counties and cities, but also that I’m a policy maker,” said Cohen. said.
Before serving on the Board of Equalization, Cohen served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, where she chaired the Budget and Finance Committee.
“When we get out of the pandemic, I think we’re going to need a very strong controller who will be a budget hawk — someone who’s going to pay attention to how and where our tax dollars are spent — who pay careful attention to transparency,” Cohen said.
As a controller, the San Francisco resident says she would prioritize putting fairness first in her job.
“Making sure we allocate all our state resources fairly, making sure lawyers and lobbyists don’t influence the policy agenda, and making sure ordinary working people are still sitting at the table,” Cohen noted.
Some of the auditor’s duties include serving on 78 boards and committees, writing checks and conducting independent audits of various government agencies—a job Republican candidate Lanhee Chen believes is best suited.
“Independence is very important. You have to have someone who stands up for taxpayers and not everyone in the government,” Chen explained. “And I think the challenge, if you keep choosing the same kind of people, is that they eventually take care of each other.”
After earning four degrees from Harvard, including a PhD in political science, the Southern California native moved back to the Golden State to teach at Stanford University and work on public policy. The father of two has also worked for the Bush and Obama administrations.
“My experience has been building relationships across party lines, understanding how to work with other people who may disagree with me on issues, but fundamentally sticking to my core principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility,” Chen said.
As California’s tax watchdog, Chen explains that he would like to work on fixing state-run programs that aren’t working.
“Let’s tell people exactly where the money is going. Let’s describe the programs we spend money on and how that money is spent, and let’s take it one step further. Let’s see how successful those programs are,” he said. “I would like to give these programs a letter number like our kids do letter numbers in school.”
The other frontrunner is Senator Steve Glazer, a Democrat who prides himself on being independent and standing up to interest groups.
“I’ve hired the NRA to successfully ban assault weapons, I’ve hired the tobacco companies to ban their marketing to children, I’ve hired PG&E in regards to their wildfire efforts they started,” Glazer said.
If elected, Glazer wants to expose the implementation of government programs that have failed to improve some of the state’s most critical problems, such as homelessness.
“We are spending about $12 billion on homelessness this year. Does anyone think we can solve that problem? If not, why not? The controller is in an important place to dig deeper with independence, without any obligation to the state administration or any interest group,” Glazer emphasized.
The 7-year-old senator and former mayor also spent 25 years working in the private sector with his own company.
“I have a track record of being independent and transparent and fiscally responsible which I think will serve me well in this job,” he added.
The other candidates in the race are Ron Galperin, who has been the Los Angeles City Controller since 2013, Yvonne Yiu, mayor of Monterey Park, and Laura Wells, an Oakland financial analyst.