Fox and Hounds Daily’s Black Bart Award as Californian of the Year in Politics goes to: John Chiang.

Consensus of our committee was that the state controller’s growing impact in state politics and his involvement in issues from the state budget, to workers salaries to auditing corrupt governments (think Bell) lifted his office from the relative obscurity to powerful.

As John Wildermuth put it in his column Tuesday, State Controller John Chiang shook up Sacramento last June when he ruled that the budget passed by the Legislature wasn’t really balanced and that he would cut off legislators’ paychecks until they met the state requirement for a balanced budget. It was never clear whether Chiang had that authority, but by elbowing his way to the front of the state’s budget wrangling, he not only focused attention on the problem, but also gave a boost to his political future.

As Joe Mathews posed in his California Office Pool True or False question today, Chiang’s action may have him sitting at the table of future budget negotiations with perceived authority.

Chiang has given his office real juice by crossing swords with a governor (Schwarzenegger) and the legislature so that seemingly he can involve himself in matters of a fiscal nature and would likely not be rebuked.

Chiang has also asserted himself in local fiscal issues by way of audits. After completing his work in the City of Bell last year, Chiang reports that his office was flooded with requests for audits from more than 200 local governments across California. He is asking the legislature for more authority to broaden his office’s auditing powers. These audits will gain Chiang more visibility as the state’s fiscal watchdog.

Chiang influence in state politics will continue to grow.

Chiang had unusual competition for the award this year being up not so much against other individuals but nominees including a state constitutional provision (the two-thirds vote to raise taxes), a commission (redistricting), and a form of government (gerontocracy).

We named the Californian of the Year Award after gentleman highwayman Black Bart, a California original. He mixed a bit of larceny, artistry, good manners with character to push-back when he thought the system was working against him.