John Chiang launches ‘underdog’ campaign for California governor

California state Treasurer John Chiang‘s Tuesday entry into California’s 2018 governor’s race kicks off what is expected to be a fierce and crowded contest for the state’s premiere political prize.

Chiang announced his run on Facebook and Twitter, forgoing the traditional electioneering theatrics of a formal press conference.

The Democrat from Torrance was elected state treasurer in November 2014 after serving for eight years as state controller, and said he would use his record protecting the fiscal health of California as the cornerstone of his gubernatorial campaign.

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“What I bring is a strong financial expertise,” Chiang said in an interview Tuesday. “When you talk about the dream of California, you don’t want a state that almost couldn’t pay its bills a few years ago.”

Chiang said that for California to remain an economic powerhouse, the state must work to improve its schools, fix crumbling infrastructure and rebuild the middle class.

His political consultant, Parke Skelton, said the treasurer has opened an official campaign account and soon will start raising money.

“It’s a statewide governor’s race, so it’s going to be expensive,” he said.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom long ago declared himself a candidate for the governor’s race and has been aggressively raising money. He already has $5.4 million in cash on hand.

Skelton said Chiang has $3.2 million left over from his 2014 bid for treasurer and can transfer that money to his new gubernatorial campaign account.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also has expressed an interest in running for governor, but the Democrat isn’t expected to make a decision until the summer or fall. Other possible contenders could include San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former state Controller Steve Westly, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.

“It’s obviously going to be a really competitive race. You have some really well-known names out there, like Gavin Newsom and Villaraigosa,” said Democratic pollster Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research. “Chiang is less known, but it’s still very early.”

Chiang said he expects the 2018 contest to be a challenge, but that his financial expertise should give him an edge in these still-uncertain economic times. He pointed to his role as controller during the state’s budget crisis in 2009, and making the difficult decision to issue IOUs so that the state would avoid insolvency.

“We can’t have a brilliant future with an empty wallet,” Chiang said.

Chiang also made headlines in 2011 when, as controller, he decided to dock state lawmakers’ pay after they failed to produce a balanced spending plan by the June 15 deadline. Two years earlier, Chiang refused an order by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to furlough state workers three days a month amid the state budget crisis. The courts ultimately overruled him.

The eldest son of Taiwanese immigrants, Chiang grew up in Chicago and New York and moved west after earning his law degree. He worked for then-Controller Gray Davis and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer. In 1998, he won his first contest for elected office: a seat on the Board of Equalization, which oversees the collection of tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Chiang is aware that the governor’s race may attract some better-known candidates, but said he’s been defying the odds throughout his entire political career.

“I grew up in a family where we faced bigotry and discrimination. I’ve always been an underdog,” Chiang said.  “This will be tough. But we’re going to appeal to the best instincts in people.”

Gov. Jerry Brown‘s fourth term in office ends in 2019. He is barred by term limit laws from running for reelection.

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