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Former Mitt Romney Policy Director Lanhee Chen Jumps Into California Controller’s Race

Lanhee Chen

Republican academic and policy advisor Lanhee Chen launched a statewide bid for California controller Tuesday in hopes to end one-party rule in Sacramento. 

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Republican academic and policy advisor Lanhee Chen launched a statewide bid for California controller Tuesday in hopes to end one-party rule in Sacramento.

“We’re not going to change California by recycling the same old tired politicians from one job to another,” Chen said in his first official campaign ad, highlighting problems plaguing the state which have led many to flee in a major exodus. “I think the promise of California is still out there, but we’re going to have to start fixing our problems soon for us to make sure that the California I see is as bright and promising as the one that led my parents to move here 35 years ago.”

The California controller is the state’s chief fiscal officer charged with financial oversight of state agencies and programs with the power to audit. The office oversees more than $100 billion in receipts and expenditures of taxpayer dollars each year, according to the controller’s website.

Chen is running in an open race after Democrat incumbent Controller Betty Yee is term-limited out of office next year. Chen, the former policy director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign who now serves as a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, railed in an interview with The Federalist on the outgoing controller as beholden to partisan interests with apathy for government waste.

“We haven’t had nearly enough aggressive auditing of state programs where there have been significant failures,” Chen said.

In one major scandal, more than $30 billion in unemployment funds went to scammers over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Chen said issues were apparent in the state unemployment program during the Great Recession of 2008 but went untouched in the nearly 15 years since as Democrats have ruled the state. No Republican has won a statewide race in California since 2006, presenting a challenge to Chen which he says leaves him unfazed despite Yee’s 2018 re-election by nearly four million votes.

At this point, the only major Democrat candidate to announce a bid for the controller’s seat is Board Equalization member Malia Cohen.

“I think people in the state are looking for change,” Chen said, and pointed at the upcoming gubernatorial recall race successfully scheduled for Sept. 14 after petitioners gathered more than 1.7 million signatures were collected and validated. “People are frustrated that big  problems aren’t getting solved.”

Romney, Chen’s former boss who now serves as a freshman senator from Utah, posted an endorsement for Chen on Twitter.

Chen listed several other areas ripe for audit including the state’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, its high-speed rail project, and its Medicaid program which has ballooned since the passage of Obamacare by about 40 percent.

Chen wants the California Medicaid program “regularly audited.” The last review was three years ago.

On the recall effort, which has drawn Republican candidates from former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to transgender Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, Chen is staying out of the contest except for supporting incumbent Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom’s removal. Voters will be presented with two ballots, one for a yes/no removal and a follow-up for replacement.