Applicant

Controller

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Applicant Lanhee Chen is asking you to hire him for the role of controller, which pays $174,843 per year. His resume:

Lanhee Chen

Program director, Stanford University

Professional Profile

Lanhee Chen has advised a number of political campaigns, but now he’s making a bid of his own. A program director, lecturer and fellow at Stanford, Chen started his political career as a lobbyist before a three-month health care fellowship at the Heritage Foundation, including research critical of Obamacare.  

He’s been dubbed by Politico as the Republican Party’s “most-courted ideas advisor,” and has worked on presidential campaigns for George W. Bush, Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio. And while it’s an uphill battle for a Republican to win any statewide office in California (Chen says this should be a nonpartisan office), his pitch is that someone outside the dominant party will be a stronger  and more independent watchdog over the state’s finances. He pledges to use the office to increase transparency and understanding, to spotlight problems and longer-term policy decisions and to restore public faith in state government. For instance, he is highly critical of the state’s oversight of the Employment Development Department.  

While he hasn’t publicly said whether he voted for former President Trump in 2016 or 2020, he did distance himself in a February interview with the New York Times in which he said he believes the Republican Party can find its footing in California again if centered around responsibility and accountability. “At some point we’re going to have to move past individual personalities, and I don’t know when that point will be,”  he told the Times.

“I’m not going to define my candidacy through the prism of the former president,” he told CalMatters.

Experience

Program director, lecturer and fellow, Stanford University 

2013-present 

Chen is the David and Diane Steffy Fellow in American Public Policy Studies at the Hoover Institution, the director of domestic policy studies and a lecturer in public policy and lecturer at Stanford Law School, January 2014-April 2018.

Political commentator, CNN

January 2021-July 2021

Board chairperson, El Camino Health

July 2015-present

El Camino Hospital is a community-based, nonprofit health care provider in the San Francisco area.

Member, Social Security Advisory Board

September 2014–September 2018 

Appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the federal board on the Social Security program to the president, Congress and commissioner of Social Security.

Campaign advisor 

2004-2012

Advisor to Mitt Romney’s Free & Strong America PAC in 2011 and policy director for his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

Deputy campaign manager and policy director for Steve Poizner in the  2010 gubernatorial race.

Domestic policy advisor for George W. Bush presidential campaign from June-November 2004.

Senior counselor to the deputy secretary, Department of Health and Human Services

May 2008-November 2008

References

  • U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican; U.S. Rep. David Valadao, a Republican from the San Joaquin Valley, and other Republican lawmakers from California
  •  Former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican

Fun Fact

At Harvard University, where Chen received his undergraduate degree in 1999 and his law degree in 2007, his roommates were Tom Cotton, now U.S. senator from Arkansas, and Kim Beom-seok, a prominent Korean-American businessman and internet entrepreneur. Cotton has endorsed Chen. 

“It’s not about ideology. It’s about competence.” 

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Here’s where Lanhee Chen, applicant for controller, stands on the big questions about California’s budget, pensions and taxes. Answers are from a sit-down interview:

Key Topics
Where Lanhee Chen Stands on the Issues
Budget
Economy
Taxes
Pensions

While the state budget is awash in surplus cash, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office and other watchdogs have repeatedly questioned whether all that money is being spent wisely or effectively.

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Which areas of the state budget would you focus on to make sure spending is effective?

“Where the challenges are is pretty manifest given the amount of money, for example, we spend on K through 12, on issues relating to health care, whether it’s Medi-Cal or IHSS or behavioral health care and mental health care.”

What specific strategies would you employ to prevent waste and fraud?

“Let’s be really precise about where the fraud is happening. In EDD, we know there was fraud and we know what the amount roughly is….Waste is a little tougher to quantify, because one person’s waste is another person’s treasure.”

Even though the economy is rebounding from COVID, California still has among the nation’s highest jobless rates and hasn’t recovered all the jobs lost. Experts say the pandemic widened the gap between California’s rich and poor in some ways, despite unprecedented direct relief.

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Would you support another broad stimulus payment? What about the gas tax rebate?

“My concern with one-time type solutions is precisely that they are one-time type solutions, that if the conditions persist we will be talking about six months from now another one-time solution, which doesn’t get at the fundamental question of where’s the flow of funds in the taxes and fees we charge on a gallon of gas right now?”

The pandemic has highlighted how much the state relies on the wealthy for tax revenues that are fueling record budget surpluses — and raised again the issue of whether the tax system needs an overhaul. Conversely, some progressives are pushing to increase taxes on the rich.

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Do you support any changes in income taxes or sales taxes to account for the shift to a service economy?

“Okay, so do we have a tax system designed for the transition to a service-based economy? Probably not. And so we need to take a good, hard look at what that means for our state taxation system.”

Do you support a “wealth tax” or increases on tax rates on upper-income residents? If so, what would the revenue be used for?

“I do not. I believe if you look at our tax collections have increased year over year over the last several years, California has the revenue it needs to be a successful and good, compassionate state….I’m not even sure it’s constitutional quite frankly.”

In the short term, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators are urging the state’s two huge public employee pension funds to divest from Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. In the longer term, CalPERS and CalSTRS both face huge amounts of unfunded debt, forcing them to consider riskier investments in search of higher returns.

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How would you reduce the unfunded debts of CalPERS, CalSTRS and local governments?

“We have made promises to state employees and teachers, we need to keep those promises. But we will be unable to keep them without, in my view, massive tax increases….Can we pay down some of those long term obligations? The Legislature’s done a little bit of that to their credit, and the governor has agreed, but we need to be doing more.”

Do you think the state should divest from Russian companies or funds due to the Ukraine war?

“I believe as a general matter that these calls to divest in one thing or another are misguided…With specific reference to the situation in Russia I would favor some removal of state investment in those resources….First of all, it’s a very small percentage of our total investments….And the notion that we are assisting the Russian war machine I think creates a fundamental national security challenge.”

Would you change any specific investment policies of CalPERS or CalSTRS?

“I don’t have any specific recommendations at this time, but I believe one of the things a controller should do is take their role on both the PERS and STRS board seriously.”