California State Treasurer John Chiang
By Ed Diokno
State Treasurer John Chiang is stepping away from the back of the room and into the spotlight with his decision to open a campaign account to run for California’s governorship in 2018 when Gov. Jerry Brown terms out.
Chiang’s announcement was not a surprise. He made it known for several months that he was considering a run for governor of the country’s biggest and wealthiest state.
If elected, he would be California’s first Asian American governor.
It won’t be an easy road for the 53-year-old Democrat. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already thrown his hat in the ring, Also expressing interest is L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigrosa, former State Controller and eBay executive Steve Wesley and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.
Facing such formidable opponents, it was crucial that Chiang declare his intentions early so that he could start raising funds and tap into the growing and increasingly influential Asian American electorate, where he is expected to draw support. He is just the fifth Asian American elected to statewide office in California.
Asians can provide Chiang, the son of Taiwan immigrants, votes and campaign contributions, but he’ll have to find broader appeal to win, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science who studies Asian Americans at the University of California, Riverside.
“This could be a game-changer in getting Asian Americans more interested and involved in politics in California,” Ramakrishnan told public radio station KPCC.
Asians comprise about 15 percent of California’s population but only about 10 percent of registered voters. However voter registration among Asians is increasing this election cycle, spurred by the anti-immigrant stances of the Republican party and that is likely to increase by 2018.
In a statement, Chiang’s campaign promoted his experience as treasurer and, before that, state controller, touting decisions to publish public employees’ salaries online and to withhold pay from lawmakers amid a budget standoff in 2011, which the courts later ruled he didn’t have the authority to do.
A moderate and a tax lawyer, Chiang told reporters, “Ninety percent of what goes into (government) decisions should be based on expert knowledge. That’s how (I’ve) tried to do it as controller and treasurer. But in politics, decisions are often 90 percent political and just 10 percent based on expertise. I don’t like that.”
That’s the kind of statement that might prove attractive to moderate Republicans and independents tired of the left-leaning rhetoric coming out of the Golden State.