Reporting

John Chiang Elected Co-Chair of California Forward Leadership Council — And Shares Thoughts on Big Issues Facing California

February 21, 2019 by Ed Coghlan


John Chiang on stage at the 2017 California Economic Summit in San Diego (Photo: Violeta Vaqueiro/CAFwd)

Former California State Controller and State Treasurer John Chiang has been elected co-chair of California Forward’s Leadership Council. Chiang is a Democrat and will join Republican Pete Weber of Fresno as Co-Chairs of the bipartisan public policy organization. Chiang succeeds Lenny Mendonca on the Leadership Council after Mendonca joined the Newsom Administration as chief economic adviser.

“I’m honored to join a thoughtful group of leaders who share my values about the importance of a transparent government and who are working on issues critical to the future of California,” said Chiang. “Preparing our workforce for an ever-changing economy, creating policy that will expand the amount of affordable housing and working to lift millions of Californians who live in or near poverty into the middle class are the issues of our time.”

Chiang, who served as State Controller from 2007-2014 and State Treasurer from 2015-2018, was widely recognized as a fiscally responsible progressive leader.

“During John’s public stewardship he saved the state billions of dollars through audits and debt restructuring,” said Pete Weber. “He also recognizes this is a time for bold action to address the economic issues that are holding so many Californians back. We are thrilled he has agreed to join our Leadership Council.”

Chiang pointed to the California Economic Summit—a project managed by CA Fwd—as the right approach to address these economic issues.

“The answers to these issues won’t be found in Washington D.C. or in Sacramento but rather in the distinct regions of our state,” Chiang noted. “The Economic Summit is the only organization in the state working on a regions-based, triple bottom line approach to economic development that will simultaneously advance economic growth, ensure environmental quality, and provide opportunity for all.”

Since leaving public office, Chiang is still working on some of these issues, joining company and organization boards that are working on health care, cybersecurity and financing smaller and mid-sized companies and their projects.

Chiang is the son of Taiwanese immigrants and was born in New York City. He graduated with a degree in Finance from the University of South Florida and earned a law degree from Georgetown University. He moved to California in 1987 where he has forged a remarkable career in public service.

“As CA Fwd moves forward with the goal of addressing the state’s urgent needs and the root causes of our challenges, having John with us to help guide those efforts can only make us even more effective,” said Jim Mayer, CA Fwd president and CEO.

In an interview with CA Fwd, Chiang talks more about what he is hoping to do as he joins CA Fwd’s Leadership Council:

Why have you decided to join CA Fwd's Leadership Council?

I’m still the son of Judy and Mutong Chiang and they instilled in me the importance of service. Former Alabama State Treasurer Young Boozer used to say, “do the right thing, do it the right way, do it right away” and I would add do it with the right people—and California Forward provides that opportunity.

 

One of the hallmarks of your time as Auditor and Treasurer was a strong belief and desire that government should be more transparent. What are you proud of having accomplished---and looking forward what else do you think we need to do?

As a public servant, I wanted to build a brighter future for all Californians. An often-forgotten aspect is risk management. As an example, the financial crisis late last decade had a far more profound dislocating effect on Californians than if we acted earlier to avert or mitigate the unfolding devastation. As State Controller then later State Treasurer, I implemented predictive markers of financial stress. For instance, I started publishing monthly revenues and comparisons to projected revenues. We did this while maintaining a close eye on cash flows.

Subsequently, we created a group of award-winning websites in both offices each designed to better inform Californians about government compensation, municipal finances and debt.

Looking to the future, even though we are in better shape fiscally, we still have to pay back tremendous debt and need to think through what else needs to be done. We also need to encourage the state and local governments to better measure performance. This is why CA Fwd is so important—helping leaders think about what to do and importantly to act for the benefit of the people of the state using data to inform decisions and adopting best practices to ensure results.

The goal is simple—we should want to get the highest and best use of every dollar.

 

We spend a lot of time working on the state-local relationship, knowing that, if we are going to "move the needle" on the CA Dream, it will require government agencies working closer together. What should we be thinking about in terms of strengthening cooperation between local and state governments?

We are more empowered when we get the best thinking and the best people involved—which is another reason California Forward is so important. We need to repair the fractured relationship between state and local government.

For too long, local representatives have expressed frustration about state actions that have imposed obligations and burdens that have been described as unnecessary or excessive. Building trust over time working with respected community leaders in an inclusive and transparent process will build a meaningful opportunity to foster California’s deliberative process.

 

There's the need for more middle-class jobs—for more affordable housing. What should we do to make California a place where young people can and want to stay and raise their families?

We need fierce leadership on this issue. Californians have to believe that their dream can happen here. If people don’t think they can afford a house or get a quality job or get to that job—they will go somewhere where they can. What I love about California Forward is they—now we—are willing to assume the mantle of leadership to advance these issues and show California that real change can happen on these issues in a way that benefits the people. The California Economic Summit—which I’ve attended-- is a key to building the bridge over the valley that can get us to the future and address these important issues!