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.
“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.