Capitol Alert

John Chiang opens committee for 2018 affordable housing initiative

California Treasurer John Chiang, a Democratic candidate for governor, has opened a ballot measure committee for the 2018 statewide election, suggesting he plans to tether his campaign to a long-planned yet unspecified initiative on affordable housing.

Details of the housing measure are murky, yet a Chiang spokeswoman said Tuesday that plans were moving forward on a 2018 proposal.

Creating more affordable housing, particularly in major, vote-rich cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, has been a recurring struggle that has vexed lawmakers and advocates in Sacramento.

The ballot committee surfaced within hours of Chiang landing the endorsement of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount. Chiang’s campaign said in the announcement that he would make California a national model for progressive legislation “providing a contrast to Trump’s dystopian society.”

“While California has recovered from the great recession, there are millions of Californians who are still economically dislocated and not within reach of the opportunities enjoyed by past generations of Californians,” Chiang’s campaign said, mentioning his planned push for more affordable housing access.

Chiang’s ballot measure strategy is not new: Candidates have long tied their own prospects to specific policy proposals, with varying degrees of success. Donors can give unlimited amounts to ballot measure committees, giving the candidates more opportunity to deliver their message as they campaign for the initiative.

Last year, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the early gubernatorial frontrunner in polls and fundraising, spearheaded a pair of voter-approved ballot measures – one legalizing recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and the other for stronger gun control, including background checks for ammo purchasers.

In 2014, as Gov. Jerry Brown faced a nominal challenger in his reelection bid, he pushed successful measures to authorize a $7 billion water bond and institute a rainy-day budget reserve.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, ahead of the gubernatorial recall election, ran a successful initiative to raise money for after-school education in 2002. Gov. Pete Wilson, in a better-known example, made himself the face of Proposition 187, which passed but was overturned by courts, as he won re-election in 1994.

Not everyone has been successful. Then-Attorney General John Van de Kamp, a Democrat, paired his 1990 gubernatorial run with three measures that, among other things, he promised would, “drain the swamp” of special-interest influence, a phrase used today by Republican President Donald Trump.

Van de Kamp’s measures, however, mostly served to drain his own campaign of resources, and he finished well behind Dianne Feinstein in the primary.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago