CA Republicans hopeful controller candidate Lanhee Chen can break party’s losing streak
On their quest to reclaim a statewide office in dark blue CaliforniaRepublicans have set their sights — and their money — on console candidate Lanhee Chen.
The race usually attracts little attention compared to other statewide offices, but this year, without an incumbent, the contributions of Chen and Democratic candidate Malia Cohen have passed the last election cycle.
Chen, former policy advisor to Mitt Romney Presidential campaign, he molded himself as an independent director who could restore the state’s financial system. Cohen, who works for the state tax board, says her previous role in leadership of the tax board has been San Francisco The Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors makes her uniquely qualified for the position.
Chen recently challenged the Republican candidates’ path in the heavily Democratic state. He made more money than Cohen and his fellow Republicans seeking office in the state. He won the primaries in June against four Democrats who split their party votes.
This led to optimism that he could help his party break the drought in California, but Chen is facing strong headwinds. California has not elected a statewide Republican since 2006 and there are nearly twice as many registered Democrats.
“It’s an uphill battle, no matter what,” said Pete Peterson, who ran for Republican Secretary of State in 2014 and is now dean of Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. He received 46% of the vote that year, the closest Republican to victory in 16 years.
The Comptroller acts as California’s financial watchdog, with the ability to disburse state funds and audit government agencies’ accounts. They also serve on more than 70 boards and committees, including one that stimulates renewable energy production and one that grants links to nonprofit colleges.
Candidates are vying to succeed Democrat Betty Yee, who has been in office since 2015 and previously served on the state budget board, which administers tax and fee programs. Cohen, the chairman, hopes to follow the same path to get to the job.
Chen has never held elected office, something he says makes him less religious to any particular party, although he advised several GOP campaigns. He was appointed by the former Democratic president Barack Obama to a board that oversees Social Security and is a Public Policy Fellow, now on sabbatical, at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
The high cost of living in California, public education, homelessness, public safety, gas taxes and fraud at the state’s unemployment agency are all within the scope of the issues a monitor can address, Chen said.
“All of these challenges in some ways can be positively impacted by an observer who will focus on achieving greater transparency and greater accountability for how our state spends taxpayer money,” Chen said.
Meanwhile, Cohen sees an opportunity to expand the role of the observer by looking for patterns uncovered in agency audits and pushing for solutions to prevent problems from happening again.
Cohen said she wants to be “on the team that’s going to work through the gaps.”
Both cited the more than $20 billion in fraudulent unemployment benefits California provided to criminals as evidence of how to better manage state money.
Chen came out on top in the June primary, despite the Democrats winning more votes collectively. Mindy Romero, director of the Center for Inclusive Democracy at the University of Southern California, said Republicans tend to do better in primaries than in general elections. Winning the primary in a divided field still has its benefits.
“It gives more attention to the Republican candidate, raises his profile, and may have a role in the party’s progress,” she said.
By the end of the September deadline for reporting campaign contributions, Chen had raised nearly $1.4 million more than Cohen for the year.
Chen, who must try to keep supporters of former President Donald Trump on his side while expanding his appeal, waited until after the primaries to say he never voted for Trump.
In an ad, Cohen links Chen to “Trump Republicans” who are pushing for the restriction miscarriage being able to. Cohen’s campaign spokesman Joe Armenta noted that the Republican comptroller may be “misappropriating funds earmarked for reproductive health services.”
But Chen said he supports abortion access, and campaign manager Matt Sipilovsky said Chen would not have the power or desire to restrict abortion access.
Meanwhile, Chen’s campaign launched an online ad questioning Cohen’s financial management skills. He points to reports in the Los Angeles Times that found the apartment Cohen bought in 2006 had been blocked and her consulting firm’s social media license suspended due to tax issues.
Cohen has defended herself against Chen’s campaign criticism of her financial background, saying the business licensing issue linked to the change of address has been resolved.
“Some may try to use my experience with foreclosures during the financial crisis for political gain, but as I said in 2010, that’s why I’m running for office,” she wrote on Twitter after publishing an article in The Times. “I understand the pain that millions of Californians have been in and have dedicated my career to ensuring that this never happens again.”