In a surprise move, both the California Republican Party and the left-leaning L.A. Times have endorsed Lanhee Chen for the position of California State Controller in the upcoming June 7th primary election. The State Controller has the authority to audit the use of state funds and is meant to act as the ‘fiscal watchdog’ of the California government, which notoriously disbursed over $20 billion in fraudulent COVID benefit claims.
Chen, a public policy fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, was appointed to the Social Security Advisory Board in 2013 by then-president Barack Obama, where he served for four years. Prior to that, Chen was the chief policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and health policy advisor for George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign. In addition to his public policy work, Chen is an investor in early-stage companies, consults for business and government clients, and serves as the chair of a Bay Area nonprofit healthcare system. Should Chen make it through the top-two primary and win in November, he would be the first Republican in statewide office since 2006.
In its unusual endorsement of a GOP candidate, the L.A. Times approvingly cited Chen’s bipartisan bonafides and ties to establishment figures, as well as his lack of public identification with the Trump wing of the Republican Party (Chen will not say who he voted for in 2020 and does not dispute the results), before noting that the State Controller has no independent policy making authority and merely reports on and oversees the activity of the government. While reiterating their support for Democratic policy goals the LA Times stressed that an oppositional figure would likely be more effective at eliminating waste, lamenting the underperformance of state education, healthcare and homelessness initiatives despite spending more than any state in the country.
In its endorsement, the L.A. Times also contended that a Republican controller has the best chance of maintaining independence from the Democratic majority in government, noting the inextricably close ties of many of his rivals, such as Malia Cohen of San Francisco, to the state party. Malia Cohen, who currently serves as Chair of the California State Board of Equalization California’s elected tax commission, has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party and appears likely to advance to the November general election.