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Endorsement: John Chiang is best choice for state treasurer

In an election in which the California Republican Party has provided few good alternatives for voters, Controller John Chiang is the best choice to be the state’s next treasurer.

Chiang, a Democrat and an attorney, is termed out as controller and seeks to replace Bill Lockyer, who also is termed out.

Chiang’s opponent is Republican Greg Conlon, a businessman who headed the California Public Utilities Commission during Gov. Pete Wilson’s tenure. He is running with little support or funding.

As treasurer, Chiang would act as the state’s banker and manage its assets. In short, the treasurer is responsible for protecting taxpayer money and making sure it is invested wisely.

Like the controller, the treasurer sits on the boards of the state’s two major pension funds, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

Based on Chiang’s performance as controller, he ought to be a steady steward of the state’s finances.

During a budget impasse at the start of Gov. Jerry Brown’s tenure, Chiang wrongly interpreted a voter-passed initiative about balanced budgets and docked legislators’ pay; they sued and won in appellate court.

Legislators viewed his actions as a cheap political stunt. There probably is some truth to that, but his instinct to guard taxpayer funds is to be encouraged.

Chiang was also wrong when, as a CalPERS board member, he voted recently on a measure that crossed Brown and local governments to increase the state’s pension liability. He ought to find ways to reduce pension costs, not increase them.

Other treasurers, Lockyer among them, have been steeped in the ways of Sacramento and have used the position to champion significant legislation.

Chiang is a low-key figure who rarely is seen in the Capitol. He ought to become more engaged in the give and take of state government and politics and offer his advice and expertise where it might be helpful.

Chiang told The Bee’s editorial board that the offices of controller and treasurer could be combined into one. He ought to work on a proposal to do just that.