Snapshot: Our meeting with Ashley Swearengin

Ashley Swearengin, the Republican candidate for state controller, said Wednesday she wants to bring the same independent, nonpartisan perspective to that office that she has had as Fresno’s mayor.

Ashley Swearengin 8-13-2014 (photo by Josh Richman)“I’m a Republican in California, I know nothing other than working with Democrats,” she quipped during her hour-long meeting with the Bay Area News Group’s editorial board. “I like good ideas no matter where they come from … There are always good people in the middle who want to solve a problem.”

“I have learned in my six years as an elected executive that the first and most important thing is to put forth your … information on what the problem is and what your recommendations are,” she said, adding that presenting irrefutable data is the only way to get a discussion started. “First and foremost, our job is to get it right with the numbers, both in the short term and the long term.”

Then, she said, she can look for ways to work with others who agree with at least part of her recommendations.

She said her executive experience running a city with 3,200 employees and a billion-dollar budget, plus “an aggressive, energetic, on-your-toes kind of personality,” give her a better resume for this job than her opponent in November’s general election, Board of Equalization member Betty Yee, a Democrat from Alameda.

She expects voter turnout will be low, and the electorate will be older than usual: “It’s a very unusual ballot coming up, and we think it’s unusual in our favor.”

Swearengin identified three main priorities she would have as controller. Foremost is the state’s fiscal health, and she said she would be an outspoken voice in calling attention to California’s short-term outlook and long-term needs.

Second, she said, she would support the state’s economic development by initiating an annual economic competitiveness audit that identifies steps the state can take to attract and retain businesses, as well as by creating a one-stop tax portal for small businesses. And third, she would create an audit committee to oversee the controller’s office, a watcher of the watchmen.

Pension reform legislation enacted in 2012 “started to turn the tide on the growing unfunded liability,” she said, a welcome change after years of kicking the can down the road.

“It is so easy to thrash about and say, ‘It’s not enough’ … but I also see that kind of reaction sometimes prevents you from taking a critical first step,” she said. “In Sacramento, we hardly ever take the first step, and when we do, we think it’s the only step.”

Swearengin said she was surprised by GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari’s recent “undercover” stint as a jobless and homeless person on the streets of Fresno; she said she hasn’t discussed it with him.

“It was a little bit of a shock to learn the night before that he had been in our city,” she said, adding she’d have welcomed the opportunity to talk with him about the steps Fresno has taken to address chronic homelessness. But as for California’s economic recovery not being evenly experienced throughout the state, “I totally agree with that,” she said.

We’ll post video of the entire Swearengin interview sometime down the road, after we’ve met with Yee as well.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • JohnW

    Although I understand her point about “first steps” on pension reform, it’s a little disappointing to see a Republican so accepting of “small ball” reform. Not that she would have much to do with that issue if elected Controller.

  • Willis James

    It is not acceptable in Sacramento to talk about significant reform regarding pensions or other problems.

    Political correctness does not even allow discussion of such. Do so and you will have the Maviglio crowd in Sacramento declaring you are stealing from the working man. Driving the working man into poverty.

    Meanwhile those same “screamers” will completely overlook the private sector’s disappearing middle class and declining wages. They along with our local news sources, the Tribune and the Chronicle, fail to print items like the shocking report from the US Conference of Mayors

    “jobs gained following the U.S. recession pay 23 percent less than those lost as a result of the 18-month slump that ended in June 2009, a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors finds.”

    The politically correct talking points of Sacramento allow for everyone to encourage a “comprehensive immigration reform” wherein millions of extra new workers will be brought into the country… to do the jobs Americans won’t do… while those same Americans are left to fight over jobs that now pay nearly 25% less than previously.

    The total “politically correct” disconnect in our California Democratic party when it comes to jobs and wages is shocking.

    They’ll fight tooth and nail to not allow any slight slippage in public employee benefits, even outrageous pensions, while being more than willing to throw lower income private sector workers overboard … all in the name of immigration reform and coalition building. Trading the economic security of current local working men and women, for the prosperity and opportunity of new arrivals even if undocumented.

    Their version of which will surely have a negative impact on most lower income working Californians.

    As though the laws of supply and demand do not function in California. Like King Canute and the waves, commanding the tide to not come in.

    But like pension reform, you can’t discuss these issues without being branded by the “group think” we call the legislature..

    Then after trashing the economic environment for the lower income working man, they offer up a higher minimum wage as some kind of salve on the wounds they have exacerbated.

    Sure, we’ll flood the market with labor, but don’t worry, we’ll make the minimum wage $10.10 in a few years. Then …if you can get a job…you’ll be able to buy a “dollar value” meal at McD on your break.

    I’m a Democrat, but our local and state leaders are brain dead. Ignoring the consequences of their actions and chants.

  • Howard K. Watkins

    Fresno voters remember well Mayor Swearengin’s effort to privatize our nationally recognized and honored residential trash collection system. Her ill-advised effort costs the taxpayers of Fresno over $1,000,000. Fortunately, the voters rose up and stopped her efforts to lose middle class jobs and eventual large rate increases. The City also had to pay millions of dollars in damages for privatizing the City’s commercial trash collection. We do not need this type of “leadership” at the state level.

  • Elwood

    Fascinating tale. Never heard any of it before, which is surprising in a statewide race.

    Got links?

  • JohnW

    Just Google it. Lots of stuff in the Fresno Bee. From the stories I read, I can’t tell whether she was right or wrong on the garbage business. Seems like she was trying to get the fiscal house in order while avoiding layoffs in public safety. The garbage company would have given the City a $1.5 million “signing bonus” and $2.5 million a year in franchise fees. All the other surrounding cities outsource trash collection, as do most of the municipalities in the Bay Area. So, it’s not like she was proposing something radical.

  • Elwood

    I don’t see the Fresno Bee much.

    And I believe it is the responsibility of the original poster to provide links documenting his/her assertions rather than me having to hunt for it.

  • JohnW

    I’ll peek at the link if provided. However, I start with the assumption that whatever information the poster spoon feeds me reflects the poster’s bias. Therefore, I prefer to also do my own search, which generally takes about 12 seconds. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify.” I put emphasis on the “verify” part.

  • Howard K. Watkins

    Good article about Measure G at http://www.fresnoalliance.com/wordpress/?p=7745