By The Examiner Editorial Board
Most Californians do not pay much attention to the role of the state controller. Yet the holder of this important office acts as a fiscal watchdog with the power to audit government spending and even withhold payment for things deemed illegal or improper. The controller also sits on dozens of state boards and commissions that come with a wide range of duties.
In the last few years, with billions of dollars in unemployment fraud at the Employment Development Department and questions about other government spending programs, the controller’s office has attracted more attention than usual. In 2022, with current Controller Betty Yee termed out, the race for controller promises to be one of the most hotly contested elections on the ballot.
Two Bay Area candidates — Malia Cohen and Steve Glazer — will vie for the controller’s office on the June 7 ballot. Both of them come to the race with strong records of public service that would serve Californians well.
Cohen has served as president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and chair of the California State Board of Equalization. Her platform in the controller’s race includes pledges to increase equity, hold corporations accountable and ensure that California’s affordable housing programs deliver what they promise.
In an interview with The Examiner, Cohen said she sees the controller’s office as the second-most powerful office in the state.
“You have the ability to have an influence and impact people’s lives,” said Cohen. “And you have the ability to check the governor’s spending and check the legislature’s spending, and that check is important because sometimes people need to be told ‘no,’ particularly when they’re in violation of the law.”
Cohen pointed to her work in creating San Francisco’s Department of Police Accountability as an example of the kind of changes she’s been able to make in government. She’s been endorsed by a long list of Democratic leaders and groups, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the California Nurses Association.
Glazer, a former mayor of Orinda who was elected to the California State Senate in 2015, has also served as a key political advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown and as a trustee for the California State University system. He describes himself as “the legislature’s toughest political watchdog” and says voters can expect him to act as an honest guardian of taxpayer money.
“I think experience matters and knowledge matters,” said Glazer. “At the same time, you want a controller who is not a captive of entrenched interests and will do the people’s work without fear or favor.”
Glazer said he has a clear track record of standing up to Big Tobacco, the NRA, PG&E and even members of his own party to “speak the truth.” If elected controller, Glazer said he would undertake “aggressive” performance audits of state spending to root out “waste, fraud and abuse.”
Chen, who has a good chance of making it to the general election as the only Republican in the race, promises independent and transparent leadership. Yet he refuses to say where he stands on abortion rights or whether he voted for Donald Trump, presumably because his political views are too extreme for California. His refusal to be transparent with voters about his views makes it highly unlikely he can win a race in a heavily Democratic state where no Republican has won statewide office since 2006.
Also running for controller in 2022: Yvonne Yiu, the Monterey Park mayor who is trying to buy the controller’s race by spending over $6 million of her own money on her campaign, and Green Party candidate Laura Wells.
Cohen and Glazer are clearly the best candidates in the race. Cohen has demonstrated the ability to think creatively about how to improve government and use her power to achieve meaningful change. Glazer has proven himself as an independent leader who can remain collegial while criticizing the powerful, including members of his own party.
Either candidate would be well-equipped to win in November and serve honorably as California state controller. The Examiner Editorial Board endorses both Cohen and Glazer in the June 7 primary.