California’s state banker made his case for governor to Santa Monica democrats Wednesday as he seeks to close in on frontrunner Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom before the June primary. The State Treasurer has raised half as much money as Newsom, about $8 million, according to filings with the California Secretary of State. After the summer primary, the top two candidates (regardless of party) will sprint to the general election in November.

“I’m the one willing to stand up to Wall Street while other democrats are taking tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands (of dollars) from Wall Street bankers,” Chiang said, who is the son of Taiwanese immigrants who moved to the United States in the 1950’s.

Chiang told the crowd he supports both single payer and universal healthcare programs for the state, however, he says the current senate bill (SB-562) that aims to establish California’s public healthcare system needs clarity. A senate analysis found the public option could cost up to $400 billion a year, with existing federal, state and local funding offsetting half that amount.

Santa Monica Democratic Club President Jon Katz said he thought Chiang missed an opportunity to present a plan for making single payer healthcare work.

“I think what John Chiang brings to the table is his financial and economic background,” Katz said. “I want to hear from him – ‘if you want single payer here’s how you pay for it.’ Same with other progressive priorities: ‘Here’s the math.’ Ideas are nice but we need to make them work.”

Instead, Chiang pivoted to bolstering the healthcare current system while addressing the audience inside Martin Luther King, Jr Auditorium at the Main Library.

“First thing we need to do is protect what we have of Obamacare,” Chiang said. The recent republican tax bill ended the requirement of every American to buy insurance or pay a penalty fee. “The hard part is they lost the mandate. Cover California talked about an increase in premiums of up to 30 percent. That’s absolutely devastating.”’

When an audience member asked whether Chiang saw any areas he could potentially work with the Trump Administration, Chiang said the state must work with the federal government to advance its progressive agenda.

“Damn right we’re going to work together. We have to work together. Especially where they are acting too slow,” Chiang said. Chiang sees Trump’s promise to build infrastructure as a potential boon for the Golden State.

Chiang’s campaign is focused on education funding, sexual harassment and affordable housing. On stage facing off a few dozen active democrats, Chiang hit his stride when it came to talking about numbers: bonds, budgets and the word “billions” flowed readily. Over the last two decades he’s been on the Board of Equalization, State Controller and Treasurer.

The former tax specialist for the IRS made headlines in 2008 as State Controller, when he denied Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s order to slash the pay of more than 200,000 state workers to the federal minimum wage amid the real estate market crash and budget crisis.

Chiang’s longtime friend and local Rent Control Board Member Todd Flora sat in the second row Wednesday, loudly applauding the man he met when he first moved to Santa Monica in 1997 and joined the Young Democrats.

“First and foremost, John Chiang oozes integrity,” Flora said. “He’s an incredibly steady hand for a state that really needs one and he’s got an incredible story. He knows what’s it like to be an immigrant whose house was vandalized. He’s worked his way up.”

As the race inches along, Chiang still must distinguish himself from Newsom and another progressive rival, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Newsom drew a larger crowd when he addressed the Democratic Club here in November, but Katz said his staff also heavily promoted the Saturday event.

The Club is in talks with Villaraigosa’s campaign to bring him to Santa Monica democratic voters next. They will vote on an endorsement in April.
“I don’t know if we’re going to come to a consensus or not,” Katz said.

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press