Race for state controller could use some pizzazz 

click to enlarge Controller John Chiang
  • Rich Pedroncelli/2011 AP file photo
  • Controller John Chiang, state taxpayers' fiscal dream date after he stood up to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is hard to follow.

I attended a fundraiser Tuesday night organized by my friend Marianne Thompson at the (incredibly adorable) Littlejohn's Candies store. The event raised money for Betty Yee, who is running for state controller in 2014. Yee currently sits on the California Board of Equalization but is termed out.

Fiona Ma, a former San Francisco supervisor and state legislator, is now running for Yee's seat on the Board of Equalization. Current Controller John Chiang is running for state treasurer. Current Treasurer Bill Lockyer was going to run for controller but instead might be the first politician who's honest about saying he's quitting politics to spend more time with his wife and child.

Lockyer's personal drama is strange and sordid but it takes something truly crazy to get any politician to leave the game of Sacramento musical chairs. The mix of term limits, private-sector avoidance and insatiable need for adulation is one hell of a drug.

Addicts include all three brothers of the Calderon family, who have combined to open 2014 campaign accounts to run for treasurer, secretary of state, controller, and the Senate and Assembly. Ron Calderon is the one running against Yee, and he even raised money in January by offering donors VIP tickets to a Lady Gaga concert. (Join the "LoveGame"?) Still, it doesn't bode well for him that his most recent account is the Ron Calderon Legal Defense Fund, thanks to allegations that he did favors for organizations that were exceptionally generous to brother Tom.

With Lockyer out of the race and Ron Calderon in hot water, I'm hoping more members of the Sacramento Just Us League of Politicians will jump in the race. The job itself is not the most exciting, consisting of administering the payroll system, acting as state accountant and investigating state spending. ("Hey, I'm getting a crash course on spending investigations!" — Ron Calderon.)

But Chiang made it cool. Remember when he refused then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's directive to furlough certain government workers in 2008? Or that time in 2011 when he stopped the Legislature from getting paid because the budget it submitted was so nonsensical that he couldn't tell if lawmakers were just being sarcastic? They weren't, and Chiang lost the court battle over the issue. But the awesomeness was done and a Los Angeles Times poll found that 83 percent of California voters approved of the move.

Chiang showed us that there is great potential in the Controller's Office, so now that we're rearranging the deck chairs, surely there are additional ambitious Democrats looking to create a reputation as fiscally responsible and a bit of an outsider — and who would love the chance to say "no" to the governor.

Paging disgruntled lieutenant governor and numbers-memorizer Gavin Newsom ...

Melissa Griffin's column runs each Thursday. She also appears Mondays in "Mornings with Melissa" at 6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at mgriffin@sfexaminer.com.

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