Approval: Lanhee Chen for Comptroller Because California Needs an Independent Tax Watchdog

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California voters have two impressive candidates to choose from in the race for state comptroller, an obscure but important office that cuts the controls that keep the government running and has the power to audit state finances.

The selection should come down to this: do you want the position to be filled by someone who is in close contact with the officials who run the state government? Or would you rather see it occupied by someone with the independence and skills to examine why government spending hasn’t performed better?

We believe that the latter is the best choice, that’s why we supported Lanhee Chen in the primary elections in June and why we urge a vote for him in the November 8 ballot.

Chen teaches public policy as a Hoover Institution Fellow at Stanford University and has worked in government, politics, academia, and business. He has experience analyzing complex financial systems in his current role on the board of directors of a nonprofit health care system in the Bay Area, and in his past role as a member of the Social Security Advisory Board, to which he was appointed by President Obama. Previously, he was Director of Policy for 2012 by Mitt Romney presidential campaign.

Chen is a moderate Republican who doesn’t do conspiracies. He is unequivocal in saying that the 2020 presidential election was legitimate – and that Donald Trump lied when he said otherwise. Before the primary, Chen did not say who he had voted for in the last two presidential elections. He has since said he did not vote for Trump (he wrote on behalf of Romney in 2016 and left his ballot blank in 2020) and won’t support him if he runs again.

On the issue of abortion, Chen describes himself as pro-choice and said he was not involved in crafting Romney’s 2012 anti-abortion stance (Romney’s stance on misplaced abortion throughout his political career). Chen said he would not use the comptroller’s office to advance a partisan agenda on abortion or any other issue. That would be difficult anyway, because the comptroller doesn’t have the power to change the law or decide how the state spends the money. This is determined by the governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Chen focuses on the comptroller’s power to control government spending. It is committed to reviewing the largest categories of spending and evaluating programs based on their effectiveness. This is an urgently needed service in a state that has a poor record of performance despite its soaring $300 billion budget. During the last several years of strong turnover, California has pumped billions more into education, health care and homelessness. Still too few students can read at grade leveltoo many Medi-Cal patients can’t see a doctor and too many people sleep on the street.

Californians deserve more clarity on why the state hasn’t produced better results with its recent bargains. A focused, independent comptroller can help lead the way to changes that will make spending more effective in addressing pressing state issues.

The controller sits on dozens of councils and commissions, helping him oversee state pension funds as well as financing authorities that issue bonds to build schools, hospitals and transportation projects. Chen would bring a more fiscally conservative outlook to these panels, though his ability to radically change their direction is questionable, since the comptroller is just one voice on a larger body.

Chen’s opponent, Democrat Malia Cohen, has a proven track record on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors and the state’s Equalization Board, which oversees property tax collection. As a San Francisco supervisor, Cohen worked on the city’s pension fund divestment from fossil fuels and the creation of a department to investigate police shootings. It has close ties to the power structure of the state, having received significant campaign finance influential public employee unions and endorsements from the California Democratic Party, most state officials and dozens of lawmakers.

Cohen is well positioned to work well with the Democrats running the state. But we think California needs a more independent monitor. That’s why Chen is the best choice in this race.

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