California Treasurer John Chiang and Andrew Wellborn stopped by the Lassen County Times office Saturday, March 3 as they toured the county. Photo by Sam Williams

State treasurer visits Susanville


Many local residents proudly proclaim Lassen County as a staunch Republican stronghold. After last November’s election, two large daily newspapers from both coasts ran stories about Lassen County — characterizing it as the reddest county in an overwhelmingly blue state.

That’s not detouring John Chiang, who has thrown his hat in the ring in the upcoming California governor’s race from visiting Lassen County and Susanville. Chiang has served eight years as state controller and three years as state treasurer, and he also served on the State Board of Equalization before that. Local radio personality Andrew Wellborn showed the treasurer around the county, and they stopped by the Lassen County Times’ office after a tour of the local state prisons. Chiang said Wellborn invited him to come visit the community, and he accepted. He said he had planned to attend the Taste of Beef, Sip of Wine event that evening, but he had to leave earlier than planned due to the bad weather on the horizon.

This was not a campaign stop — the June 2018 primary is many months away. Chiang said eight or nine Democrats have already announced their intention to run, but he believes he has a chance to win despite the crowded field and California’s new open primary system that moves the top two voter-getters from the primary election onto the general election ballot regardless of their party affiliation. Chiang also talked about his background.

“I’m the oldest son of immigrant parents — good folks who came to America and believed in the dream,” Chiang said. “My dad came to this country with three shirts and two pairs of pants, and just made it.” His Taiwanese parents worked hard — his father was a chemical engineer and his mother raised four children — hoping they all would become surgeons, but none of them went into medicine.

“I’m the oldest son,” Chiang quipped, “so I’m the first failure.” Chiang earned a degree in finance and another in law, but he does not practice law and focuses on the state’s finances instead. “As the state treasurer, I just focus on the investments, bonds and running economic development authorities for California,” Chiang said. Chiang is proud of his work to create a better, more stable environment for the state’s finances.

“We are much improved, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Chiang said. “During the recession, it was terrible. California lost 1.3 million jobs, our budget dropped from $100 plus billion to below $90 billion, but we’ve recovered dramatically in regards to revenues. We’re over $120 billion today.”

But Chiang said the state needs to be smart in the good times and pay down its debt and save for bad times.

“There’s ups and downs,” Chiang said. “It’s just common sense that ought to be applied by everybody.” The newspaper asked Chiang about a topic of discussion here in Lassen County — the possibility of California becoming a sanctuary state if AB 24 passes in the legislature.

Chiang said it’s a complicated issue and many state and local programs receive federal funding, but in his opinion, the federal government would have to follow due process and equal protection requirements. And the Congress, not the administration, determines funding for programs.

So, Chiang said, “The question is, “Do you meet the muster for the funding of those programs? Right now people can’t talk about it with any specificity because we’re not sure what’s being violated and what pot of money’s being taken away.”

Chiang said the state expects to receive about $105 billion in revenue from the federal government this year — including $66 billion for MediCal. And he said not all that money goes to the state; some goes to the cities and the counties.

“That wouldn’t be with sanctuary cities,” Chiang said. “A lot of that’s tied to program qualifications. A lot of that’s tied to the Affordable Care Act. If they do a full repeal, we’re looking at a loss of revenue of about $23 billion, which is material. And there’s that spillover effect. Who are we going to cover if the federal government is no longer going to send that money to California? Are we going to protect the kids who just suddenly lost their health insurance, or are we going to take that money from a poor, disabled senior?”