In race for California’s top banker, Cudahy councilman looks to oust incumbent who weathered political storms

Republican Jack Guerrero faces a difficult task in November’s election to unseat Democratic state treasurer Fiona Ma, who won a lopsided victory in the June primary and remains popular with California voters despite a series of scandals.

The Treasurer is the state’s chief banker and is responsible for managing its finances and investments. He serves on powerful boards and committees that oversee government employee pension systems and allocates government bond funding for affordable housing, education, infrastructure and environmental projects.

During their election campaigns, the two candidates have repeatedly presented opposing visions of how they could approach the job of California’s top banker. Ma hopes to build on programs she championed during her first four years and Guerrero, a Cudahy council member who has held the position since 2013, is seeking to shake up the Sacramento bureau and policies that he says are responsible for the “mismanagement” of taxpayers’ money.

“It’s about time an independent minder, free of the Sacramento one-party apparatus, brought the government check and balance, served honorably, and told taxpayers the truth about our dire financial condition,” Guerrero said in February when announcing his Candidacy.

Though Guerrero’s big, reformist promises were enough to earn him 1.4 million votes in the June primary, he was still easily outperformed by Ma, who garnered a clear majority of 3.8 million votes — 57% of the votes cast.

Ma also outperforms Guerrero in fundraising. Guerrero has raised $20,000 while Ma has raised more than $4 million.

It is rare for an elected acting Treasurer to be removed. Voters have not chosen a challenger since 1958.

Guerrero is also attempting to become the first Republican treasurer since Matt Fong was elected to office in 1995, a steep climb in a state where nearly 47% of registered voters are Democrats, 24% are Republicans, and nearly 23% have a no-party preference “. No Republican has been elected to statewide office since 2006.

He has tried to gain ground by criticizing the way the state handles its debt, its creditworthiness, and the large amounts of unfunded debt from CalSTRS and CalPERS, which pay the pensions for California public school educators and manage other public employees. He said the state was spending too much on “pet projects” and called for lower taxes and less government spending.

Guerrero said that if elected, he plans to appear in the Senate and Assembly to warn lawmakers about spending bills that would increase the national debt.

“I will do this until lawmakers get tired of seeing my face,” he said.

Throughout the campaign, Ma has emphasized her experience working with lawmakers to pass laws that increase funding to solve some of the state’s biggest problems, like the housing crisis.

Ma had lobbied for Assembly Bill 140, passed in 2021, which gives the Treasurer’s Office a say toward the California Dream For All program, which aims to make homeownership more affordable, especially for first-time buyers. The bill has been heralded as a valuable tool in closing the racial wealth gap.

She is also focused on streamlining the process of distributing finance for affordable housing projects, which she says could be done more efficiently and transparently for those applying for bonds and tax credits.

“If we can do that, that would be like the crown jewel for housing,” she said.

Other initiatives she has supported include the Cal KIDS program, which automatically gives up to $100 to every child born in California on or after July 1 and up to $1,500 to every eligible low-income student automatically, to fund college and encourage saving; and CalSavers, which required all businesses and nonprofits with five or more employees in the state to either offer their adult workers a “qualified” retirement plan or enroll in state retirement plans.

Ma’s tenure has also seen some controversy. She has been criticized for charging taxpayers more than $32,000 in room and board expenses to regularly travel from her San Francisco home to Sacramento, a practice other statewide officials do not partake in, such as an investigation by Sacramento Bee revealed. She was also sued by a former employee for sexual harassment and wrongful termination.

Ma has denied allegations of wrongdoing, calling ongoing litigation “frivolous” and the result of a “disgruntled employee” being fired over performance issues. She said she now commutes to and from her home in San Francisco every day.

Ma, a former San Francisco CEO and member of the state legislature, has remained popular with voters despite multiple scandals.

Guerrero, who like Ma is a certified accountant, ran for local office after scandals rocked his town of Cudahy. As mayor aiming to lift his hometown out of its legacy of corruption, he called on the state controller to scrutinize the city’s finances and administrative controls.

Guerrero said he intends to help low-income Californians enter the workforce through training programs and provide government incentives to encourage private sector investment to address areas of need.

“For all the quality of life, I think the private sector is the best hope we have,” he said. In race for California’s top banker, Cudahy councilman looks to oust incumbent who weathered political storms

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