Republican Lanhee Chen launches bid for state controller

Lanhee Chen wants to do what no Republican has done in California since 2006—win a statewide office. 

The Hoover Institution fellow, Stanford lecturer and GOP policy advisor announced his run for state controller.

"I don’t see it as a particular partisan or ideological job," Chen told KTVU. "I see it as a job where we need to value competence."

He added, "I want to say, ‘Here are the ways in which your tax dollars are being spent to address the many challenges our state has, and how’s it working out?'"

Current controller Betty Yee, a Democrat, terms out in 2022.

In short, the controller is the state’s chief fiscal officer who has the power to audit different agencies. Chen immediately wants to tackle the beleaguered Employment Development Department. He wants to be a "check" to what he calls a "one party monopoly" in Sacramento.

It’s his party affiliation that could be his biggest challenge.

"It is a big hill in a sense, you need to break into the ‘decline to state’, ‘no party preference’, ‘middle of the road’ California voters," said Sonoma State political science professor David McCuan. 

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans nearly 2 to 1 in California. But, political experts point to the 24% no party preference voters as an opening.

Chen has deep GOP roots, including policy advisor to Senator Mitt Romney’s presidential run. He won’t say if he voted for former President Donald Trump.

"My candidacy is not going to be defined through the lens of any single politician, whether that’s the former president or anyone I’ve helped in my career," said Chen. 

"Lanhee serves as an important barometer for where the Republican party finds itself moving forward," said McCuan."A place that’s going to engage populations that haven’t been engaged in politics to some degree, that are beyond the populism of Trump." 

California is still 16 months away from people voting for controller, but Chen steps into a growing field of Democrats including former San Francisco supervisor Malia Cohen. He says he’s not focused on partisan politics, but rather getting his message out.

"I want to help them understand how can the controller make things better for you, how can we make it better for the lives of ordinary Californians," said Chen.