John Chiang Real Favorite to Succeed Gov. Brown

John Seiler
Former Editorial Writer at the Orange County Register

With the presidential race over and Donald Trump’s inauguration looming, attention in California turns to who will be the top Democratic dog in next year’s election to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown.

According to the Chronicle, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom sports “a total of $11.5 million cash on hand,” raising $2.6 million in the second half of 2016. That’s “far more than his major announced rivals, who include state Treasurer John Chiang, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.”

The Los Angeles Times reported Chiang has about $7 million.

But one of the things we learned last year is a campaign warchest isn’t as important as it used to be. Donald Trump “spent about half” of what Hillary Clinton did, according to a CNBC analysis, and won. Moreover, newspapers, my longtime ex-profession, continue to decline in influence. And people keep “cutting the cord” to ditch cable.

Which means social media will be even more important in 2018 than in 2016. As I noted on Fox and Hounds a couple weeks back, we can expect Republican candidates for governor and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat to imitate Trump’s style, informing and provoking us with tweets.

I expect Democrats will do the same, too, but in a more subdued manner. They won’t want to be tied to Trump’s style, yet still mimic his success.

Villaraigosa just tweeted, “Humbled by incredible show of support for campaign to give voice to every Californian – just over $2.7M raised by midnight on the 31st.”

And in late December, Chiang tweeted, “A vast, mostly untapped donor base could propel John Chiang to become California’s first Asian American governor.” That was the title of a Times story he linked to.

See what I mean?

For that reason, I think Treasurer John Chiang, despite his campaign treasury deficit with Newsom, is the early favorite as the top Democrat, and therefore most likely next governor. The reason is he will tweet his imitation of Brown’s frugality on the budget, while funding major programs. He also will take jabs at Villaraigosa for Los Angeles’ fiscal problems.

Thanks to the social media boom, Newsom was luckier as mayor of nearly recession-proof San Franciso, as revenues rolled in. Yet since then, for eight years he has played second fiddle to Brown. By contrast, Chiang is the master of his own department, and destiny. For example, last September Chiang sanctioned Wells Fargo “and ordered the suspension of business relationships between his office and the bank for one year after a scandal that has rocked the nation over the opening of two million fraudulent bank accounts,” reported NBC Bay Area.

And in early December, he tweeted, “Treasurer sends letter to @CalPERS board calling for sale of all investment in #tobacco companies http://bit.ly/2hKSrKK.”

Newsom also chimed in, as reported in the San Francisco Examiner, “Ploughing California taxpayers’ money back into Big Tobacco is about the most perverse course of action CalPERS can take.”

This actually is a budget mistake. Already, Calpers tobacco divestment has cost the fund $3 billion in lost earnings – money that ultimately will have to be made up for by taxpayers.

But after voters just passed a massive, $2 a pack cigarette tax increase, 64-36, plundering smokers who mainly are poor, who cares? It’s just future taxpayers, and just the people who will die during black-market cig shootouts. They don’t count, after all. So Chiang, already given cover by Newsom, won’t be hurt by inhaling that folly.

Anyway, not just Republicans, but Democrats don’t want to return to the budget disasters that have plagued every recent governor since 1990: Pete Wilson, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Only Brown has avoided fiscal disaster, due both to luck and his reputation, mostly deserved, as a fiscal tightwad. As I have noted on this site, that luck will continue as the despised President Trump enacts pro-growth fiscal policies.

The powerful public-employee unions, especially the teachers’ unions, gripe about Brown’s stinginess, especially early on in his current term in office. But they can’t gainsay the stability he has brought to state finances.

Then there’s the ultimate wild card: Trump himself. There’s no love lost for a state that went 62-32 for Hillary. A single Trump tweet just put the kibosh on House Republicans’ scheme to gut their independent ethics committee. Imagine what fun he will have with our governor’s race.

It’s still a long, long way to Tipperary, California. And a dark horse might arise. But for now, Chiang has the advantage.

Put that in your Twitter feed and smoke it.

John Seiler, an editorial writer, columnist and manager at the Orange County Register for 29 years, now writes freelance. His email: writejohnseiler@gmail.com

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