California hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006, but Lanhee Chen thinks this could be the year when one of the country’s greenest states shows a bit of red.
Chen, 43, is looking to become a controller, effectively the state’s chief financial officer. He is challenging incumbent Betty Yee, a Democrat.
The first round of voting in California’s all-party primary system was in June and the general election, when Chen and Yee ended, was in November. The state did not elect a controller for California. Republican Party since the 1970s.
Although this is his first time running for public office, Chen, a Stanford University professor, is no stranger to political strife. He was policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and served in the administration of President George W. Bush.
In an interview, he discussed why he’s running, why he believes he can win, and his party’s two most recent presidential standard-bearers. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Why run for controller instead of governor, or start locally on school board or City Council?
It is an extremely valuable platform for those who are looking to bring about a change in the way the state runs its business – the ability to inspect any agency, you can really enter there and fix everything. And I diagnose the problems our state has. And to me, the problems facing the state are primarily fiscal in nature. So this office for me is a great fit for what I want to do and how I think we can remedy the situation, even if it’s not the most glamorous office.
What are the biggest challenges facing California?
The cost of living is a big deal – no one can afford a house. And if they can, they’re saving decades to do it. The problem of homelessness, in relation to quality of life and the environment in general, has worsened even during my time living out there since returning home in 2013. Safety concerns public is very real and those issues have become much more public with rapid robberies during the summer.
The California Republican Party has historically won at times of turmoil. But can you still count on the political response in these polarizing times, when people tend to stick with their party no matter what?
This is something that has been built for a long time. If you had asked me the same question two or four years ago, the answer would have been no. I think the situation has become too urgent now. Look how many recall elections we have, whether for the governor or for the school board and district attorney in San Francisco. The level of response to what we’re seeing goes beyond partisanship, it’s beyond ideology – it’s into the experiences people have. I think that anger, that frustration, is palpable. I hear it from Democrats, I hear it from independents and from Republicans. So that leads me to believe, yes, this can overcome the partisan polarization we’ve seen.
How do you diagnose your party problems in California? Why can’t Republicans even compete statewide?
Party leadership in California is often focused on winning the state’s targeted legislative and congressional races. You can’t blame them for that, but the problem is you don’t have a statewide voter contact infrastructure. That’s number 1.
Second: No candidate has yet been able to combine and articulate the kind of message and vision that is widely appealing to Californians.
Let’s say you’re campaigning at a farmers market in Santa Barbara or Monterey, and a voter approaches you and seems to like you. But they are apprehensive about voting for the Trump Party. What do you tell them?
I think it’s really important to understand where you’re from and why I think it’s important to have someone with a different partisan affiliation than the rest of the state government. So let’s start with the point that checks and balances are important. But then I move on to talking about the Republican Party I know and the kind of Republican Party I believe we can have again, around ideas like accountability and accountability. At some point, we will all have to change our personalities in the past, and I don’t know when that time will come.
So why not just run as a standalone?
In practical terms, if you don’t have billions of dollars in value, you won’t be able to build that necessary base. But there is one more important point. I think authenticity is of great value in politics, and I’ve been a Republican all my life. I’ve never been registered as anything else, and I think it’s important to be yourself.
Although free, California has millions of devoted Trump supporters. How do you balance attracting the political middle class without alienating the MAGAs?
What Governor Glenn Youngkin did successfully in Virginia: You focus on the state’s problems and solve the problems that are right in front of us. If you don’t focus on those things, you run the risk of not only not getting the job done, but also talking about things that aren’t relevant to the daily lives of people in your state.
Let’s say you get two phone calls: The first is from Mitt Romney and the second is from Donald Trump. They both want to go to California to campaign for you. What do you tell them?
I’m just saying I’m doing my own thing. Now I have to say this: Obviously, I have great respect and admiration for Mitt Romney. There’s very little I wouldn’t do for him.
Jonathan Martin is a national political correspondent for The New York Times.
The rest of the news
Death hiking: Phone recordings from a family who died hiking near the Merced River last summer reveal texts and calls begging for help, Associated Press reports.
An annoying neighborhood: A giant black bear called Hank the Tank has broken into at least 28 houses foraging in South Lake Tahoe.
Missing women: The Yurok tribe issued a declaration of emergency after a series of indigenous women were killed or disappeared along the Northern California Coast, Associated Press reported.
What you got
The house is worth 1.8 million dollars in California, Maine and New Mexico.
Where we are traveling
Today’s travel tip comes from Al Evers, recommender Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park In the Bay Area:
“A hidden redwood forest lies off Redwood Road just a few miles up the mountainside from downtown Oakland. The forest’s peaceful groves show little evidence of the park’s bustling past – in the mid-1800s, the area was extensively logged to provide building materials for the San Bay Area. Francisco. The era of logging has long since passed, and a stately forest of 150-foot coastal redwoods has replaced the felled trees. “
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in upcoming versions of the newsletter.
What we are reading
a new book about the history of PayPal and the entrepreneurs who shaped Silicon Valley.
And before you go, some good news
This week, a waterfall in Yosemite National Park is expected to transform in minutes at dusk into a swath of fiery, fiery orange.
With enough rainfall and clear skies, Horsetail Falls – the falls east of El Capitan – can become a “fire rain” for several weeks each year in late February.
The angle of the light at dusk can make the water “glow and look like it’s on fire” a park spokesman said.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/22/us/lanhee-chen-california-controller.html Why Republican Lanhee Chen Thinks He Can Win California