Capitol Alert

Five things you need to know about John Chiang

California Treasurer John Chiang has spent more than two decades in various political offices. Now, he’s running to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown for the state’s top elected position.

Here are five things you should know about Chiang:

1. He went to work as a tax man and spent decades in financially focused elected offices. After attending Georgetown University Law Center, Chiang was a tax law specialist for the Internal Revenue Service.

Like his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, he got his start in politics by being appointed rather than elected. Chiang was selected to fill the Board of Equalization seat vacated by newly minted Rep. Brad Sherman in 1997, and was elected to the tax board the next year. Chiang became state controller in 2007, serving two terms. In 2015 he was elevated to state treasurer, where he issues municipal bonds, manages a $75 billion investment portfolio and oversees trillions in annual transactions. A product of suburban Chicago, Chiang lives in Torrance. He separated from his wife, Terry Chi, in 2016.

2. His biggest political moves were over paychecks. In June 2011, Chiang withheld paychecks for all 120 legislators after determining that the budget they passed didn’t meet a voter-approved requirement designed to generate more on-time, balanced state spending plans.

That budget, approved on a majority vote, was not balanced, Chiang argued. He withheld more than $580,000 in pay over the 12-day dispute. The lawmakers, whose pay was docked between $260 and $300 for each day their salary was cut, cried foul, accusing Chiang of misusing his power and filing a lawsuit against him. A court agreed, ruling that the controller had overstepped his power. In another high-profile case, Chiang later refused an order from then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to cut the pay of thousands of state workers to the federal minimum wage amid a budget impasse.

The Schwarzenegger administration sued, and Chiang filed a countersuit, arguing he could not make the changes. Chiang was rebuffed in the courts, and the matter was ultimately dropped by Gov. Jerry Brown’s Department of Personnel Administration, which argued the state’s payroll system couldn’t accommodate the changes without modifications, potentially at significant costs.

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3. Chiang took on Wells Fargo over sham practices. Chiang, the state’s top banker, penalized the San Francisco-based financial institution after it was revealed that employees were opening sham accounts.

Chiang’s sanctions, which he extended last fall for a second year, included the suspension of investments by his office in Wells Fargo securities; precluded using the bank as a broker-dealer to purchase investments; and suspended the bank as a managing underwriter for bond sales in which the treasurer appoints the underwriter. As treasurer he also points to moves he made to save the state and its agencies $5.5 billion through refinancing of older debt; and an exercise in cutting regulatory red tape that his office contends led to a marked increase in the number of homes built or rehabilitated since 2014.

4. He’s been working to boost political participation of Asian Americans. For decades Chiang, the son of immigrants from Taiwan, has sought to help Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a greater voice in the political process. In 2000, he rallied Asian voters to turn out for Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. He and supporters have argued that neither party has done a good job of reaching out to diverse constituencies, including immigrants who often prioritize personal economic security and safety over electoral politics.

5. Affordable housing and education are top issues for him. Chiang’s big-picture pitch is he would be the adult in the room, particularly on matters of spending.

His housing plan is based on the belief that every resident of the state has a right to an affordable, decent place to live. It calls for at least $9 billion in affordable housing bonds as well as increasing the state’s low-income housing tax credit program by $600 million annually; offering more funding for housing production, including additional transportation money, sales tax revenues and state infrastructure funds; and a “housing czar” in the Governor’s Office to coordinate efforts to increase housing, address affordability and end homelessness.

His education blueprint calls for addressing growing teacher shortages; protecting the collective bargaining rights of educators and school employees; expanding the class-size reduction program; and making community college free.

This item was written by Christopher Cadelago when he was with The Bee Capitol Bureau. He now works at POLITICO in Washington.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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