By John Celock
The official entry of California’s state treasurer into the 2018 governor’s race Tuesday has led two Democrats to announce for his job as the state’s top banker.
State Board of Equalization Chairwoman Fiona Ma and Assemblyman Mike Gatto both announced on Twitter Tuesday that they would seek the treasurer’s office in 2018. Treasurer John Chiang (D) announced earlier in the day that he had filed paperwork to begin raising money to seek the governorship to succeed term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
The announcements comes as California braces for several competitive statewide races in 2018 with term limits opening up most offices. The treasurer’s contest is likely to be joined by open seat races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction. The attorney general’s contest could be shaken up if Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) wins a U.S. Senate seat this year and Brown appoints a successor who decides to run for the job in 2018.
Both Gatto and Ma have been considered rising stars in state Democratic politics. Under California’s election system, all candidates compete in the primary with the two top finishers – regardless of party – advancing to the general election. The system sets up the possibility of the pair – who come from different parts of the state – competing from now through November 2018.
Gatto, 41, was first elected to the Assembly in a 2010 special election representing a Los Angeles based district. In the Legislature he currently serves as the chairman of the Utilities and Commerce Committee and is a former chairman of the Appropriations Committee and the Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. He is also a former assistant speaker pro tempore. He told the Sacramento Bee late last year that he had not missed any of the 9,370 votes since entering the Assembly.
Gatto, known for being prolific on social media, announced last year that he would not seek a state Senate seat this year, saying his young children wanted him to spend more time at home and he and his wife were planning to have a third child soon. Gatto did not, however, close the door to a potential race for lieutenant governor in 2018. The Los Angeles Times reported at the time that he had raised $1.9 million for a Senate bid and $48,000 for a lieutenant governor run, both of which can be used in a treasurer’s race. It is not uncommon in California politics for candidates to file campaign committees for one statewide office to raise funds several years before the election and then announce for another office.
Ma, 50, was elected to the Board of Equalization in 2014 representing a district that stretches along the California coast from Santa Barbara to the Oregon border. Ma, a certified public accountant, previously spent six years in the state Assembly, where she served as speaker pro tempore and chairwoman of the Select Committee on Domestic Violence. Prior to being elected to the Assembly in 2006, she served one term on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
The Board of Equalization collects and administers the state’s sales and use taxes, property taxes and special taxes, along with handling tax appeals relating to franchise and income taxes. As the board’s chairwoman, Ma also serves on the state Franchise Tax Board, which collects and administers California’s income and franchise taxes.
California’s treasurer manages the state’s investments and debt program, along with serving on 62 state boards, including those running the state’s pension funds and various bond finance programs. Among the boards chaired by the treasurer include those handling the financing the construction of schools, hospitals, transportation infrastructure, solid waste management facilities and healthy food retail establishments in food deserts.