By Madlen Grgodjaian/California Black Media
John Chiang, the 33rd State Treasurer of the Golden State, is determined to become California’s next governor. In his role, the 55-year-old Democrat oversees trillions of dollars in annual transactions and is the largest issuer of municipal bonds.
Chiang began his career as a tax law specialist and later served two terms on the California State Board of Equalization, including three years as chair. He is prepared to take on political opponents to become California’s first Asian-American governor.
“There are three things that set me apart from other candidates: integrity, trustworthiness, and a record of fiscal responsibility,” Chiang said.
The primary election for governor is on June 5. Chiang recently spoke with California Black Media regarding the policies he would implement as the executive head of California.
How has your upbringing shaped and morphed you into becoming the individual that you are?
“I’m running for governor to make sure that we build a better future
for all Californians. It’s one that’s inclusive and a message of social justice where everybody has value. It’s one of building the ladder of economic opportunity. As I mentioned, my parents came to this country with not much, but they were able to move us from lower income into middle income with middle class opportunities. As the first Asian-American family in our community in suburban Chicago, we faced terrible discrimination. We were treated as second-class citizens, people didn’t give us respect, we had racial epithets spray-painted on our garage, ‘Go home Jap, gook, chink.’ We used to get into physical fights to defend ourselves. I am blessed with eight godchildren and I want to make sure that the fear, bigotry, and hatred that is spewed out and when you have an absence of leadership in Washington D.C. that you have a leader in me, who is going to fight and make it clear that everyone regardless of background, heritage, or economic status, understands that they are a person of value.”
If elected, what steps will you take to ensure California schools receive sufficient resources in order to improve test scores and job readiness?
“Education is my top priority. It’s the key to the American dream. For me it’s up close and personal because my parents are immigrants to this country, and they gave up absolutely everything to come to America to get an education. My dad came with three shirts and two pairs of pants, and not much money. I’m like the others. I’ve been in the trenches during the fiscal crisis of the state of California. When the governor and legislature were passing phony budgets, I was the one who quite paying the legislature because they couldn’t get the map right. It was the kids who were paying the price because we were deferring payments to schools, impacting the kids’ abilities to get the services and programs to help them grow and reach their fullest potential to fulfill their dreams. I have a track record of demonstrating that I have financial knowledge with my steady hand that led California through the recession. I’m the most successful auditor in California history. I did $9.5 billion of audit findings when I was controller. As the treasurer, I have saved the state $6.5 billion by refinancing the states debt, so they are at low interest rates. Those are a couple of concrete examples of how you find additional dollars that can be used to pay for education. I want to make sure that the first two years of community college are free. Today, I’ve been working as a state treasurer on programs to help families save money for their children, so they can go to college. If a child has a college savings account they have a seven times greater likelihood of going to college versus a student or a child who does not have a college savings account. I have a comprehensive plan to make sure that whether it’s career technical education or college, that we are providing a pathway for students to be successful.”
How would you address the ongoing tension between law enforcement and the African American community?
“Clearly there is a lot of work that needs to be done. We need to have real tough conversations about what the root causes are here. If we’re going to seek justice, there has to be accountability in the system. In California, it’s going to require that we rethink how we police in this state. From who and where we recruit to how we train, to procedures such as de-escalation, as a first step and not just an afterthought. Make sure we provide law enforcement with the tools so they can get the job done. At the heart of the matter is we need to have real conversations to make sure we address these issues, so they don’t persist. That includes the issues raised by Black Lives Matter.
What are the shortcomings and how do we bring people together? If we bring people together then we can move forward as one.”
Do you believe what Californians are paying in taxes and getting in return is adequate? If not, what’s the solution?
“I will always fight to make sure we optimize every single taxpayer
dollar. As I mentioned, I’m the most successful auditor in California history. When I was the state controller, I identified $25 million in state waste, fraud, and inefficiency. It was during my time that we audited the city of Bell and Montebello, and looked at the construction practices of Los Angeles Community College District. I want to make sure as given the incredible honor and privilege to be California’s governor that we take it to the highest office of the state. To make certain we don’t waste a dollar because a dollar wasted is a dollar that’s taken away from education, healthcare, libraries, and other essential services.”
According to a 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report performed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, California has the highest rate in homelessness in the nation with a whopping 13.7 percent. How do you plan to decipher this epidemic?
“The homelessness issue is going to require all hands on deck approach because people become homeless through multiple circumstances. One could be due to deterioration, decline in their finances. You have a single mom with children who lost their job, which happened a lot during the recession. Then, they start couch surfing on their friends’, brothers’ or sisters’ couches. Often times with others who are not in a good economic financial position. Then, they’re living in their cars and may end up on the streets. You have those who suffer posttraumatic stress syndrome, and we know here in Los Angeles we have a problem because the VA is going to cut 2,500 units of transitional housing. We have a lobby in Washington D.C. to get the VA to protect those who fought and served this country honorably and selflessly. We need to make sure we have programs for substance abuse and mental health issues. We need to make sure there is adequate housing for the homeless. We need to do early detection in identifying individuals and families who are in a place where they could end up homeless. We need to make sure there is early intervention. Whether it’s the housing services, community services, social services, children’s services, or health intervention to protect those families. As governor, I would have everybody coordinating on these issues from federal, state, and local governments to public and private agencies, and individuals working on these issues to address homelessness. We have 130,000 Californians who are homeless and that should not be accepted for a single moment more. That is not who we are as Californians, and it is not our values. We need to make sure we make our commitment known, and we take action to uphold our values in protecting our fellow human being.”
What makes you uniquely different from the other candidates through the lens of African Americans?
“I get the job done. When you talk about integrity and trustworthiness, when I ran for treasurer I said I was going to build more housing. We know that so many individuals lack a place that they can call home. As state treasurer, I increased the building of new or rehabilitated affordable housing by 83 percent. A lot of those are in communities of color.”
What are your thoughts on state-sponsored single-payer healthcare?
“I am for single-payer healthcare. What makes me different than the other candidates as I pointed out is that I have a record of fiscal responsibility. I’ve led California through a fiscal crisis. When we talk about who has the deepest knowledge, who has a proven track record of funding and financing California, I have those attributes that haven’t been articulated or demonstrated by others in this campaign.”
What is one message you want to send to voters? “I stand up and fight when others won’t. To give you an example, when Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to cut the pay of the state’s public servants, while the others remained quiet, I stood up and fought for the good hardworking public servants.”