It’s tough during times of the typical contentious political give and take for a recognizable member of a political party to make a stand that faithful party members think adverse to the party’s interest. It’s even more difficult in these polarizing times. Yet, State Controller Betty Yee, a Democrat, told fellow Democrat Secretary of State Alex Padilla that he does not have the authority to issue a $35 million contract to a well-connected Democratic public relations firm to promote voting in the coming election. 

Good for Ms. Yee. 

Padilla awarded the contract to SKD Knickerbocker, a Washington, D.C. based PR firm that has ties to the last Democratic administration and is connected to the current Democratic presidential nominee. The issue for Controller Yee was not so much the politics but the authority of the Secretary of State to make a $35 million allocation of taxpayer money, which she said he lacks. 

But, of course, politics always comes into decisions like this. 

Ask former state Controller John Chiang. Democrat Chiang took a bold stand refusing to pay legislators in 2011 when he said they did not pass a balanced budget in time and therefore under provisions of the recently voter-approved Proposition 25, he was withholding legislators’ pay. Chiang charged that the budget passed by the legislature contained a nearly $2 billion deficit and was therefore not a legal budget under the state’s requirement that its budget must be balanced. 

Chiang faced a backlash from the predominantly Democratic legislature. Eventually, Democratic legislative leaders filed a lawsuit against Chiang declaring that if the legislature passes a budget by the constitutional deadline of June 15 and says it passed a balanced budget then Proposition 25 is satisfied, no matter how the controller adds up the budget numbers. Courts sided with the Democratic legislative leaders. 

Betty Yee should expect grumbling from party members as well about her verdict. 

Meanwhile, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association followed Yee’s decision with a letter to Secretary of State Padilla saying he should retrieve money already spent under the contract or face legal action. 

Yee’s action should be noted because it is rare. Standing up for principle over party interests is not an easy thing for a politician to do, especially one who has political ambitions. Yee is said to be eyeing the governor’s chair. Recently in Washington, Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney made a similar call when he voted to support an article of impeachment against Republican President Donald Trump.

George Washington, in his Farewell Address, warned that political parties often become “potent engines…to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.”  It is a warning that has stood the test of time. 

When a politician takes a stand on law and principle against her or his own party’s interest it should be recognized. 

Yeah for Yee.