Tax official, AG vie for treasurer’s seat
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The treasurer’s race is pitting California’s well-known top cop against a Republican tax official hoping to raise his own standing in Sacramento as term limits force both candidates from their current offices this year.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer dropped his plans to run for governor to face off against Board of Equalization member Claude Parrish in the race to replace Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides as the state’s chief banker.
The treasurer manages the state’s $60 billion investment account and issues bonds for public works projects.
The position also holds a seat on dozens of governing boards and commissions, including the state’s powerful public employee and teacher pension systems.
Parrish faces a tough battle against the better-known attorney general, whose recent investigation into the Hewlett-Packard boardroom spying scandal is just the latest in a series of high-profile inquiries that have kept Lockyer in the public eye. He also filed suit against automakers, claiming they are responsible for damages caused by vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
An August Field Poll reported that six in 10 likely voters had an opinion of Lockyer, mostly favorable, while 86 percent of likely voters had no opinion of Parrish.
Also working against Parrish is his meager campaign fundraising. According to mid-year campaign finance documents, Lockyer had raised more than $10 million for his campaign. Parrish has pulled in just more than $200,000.
The $37.3 billion package of public works bonds set to go before California voters in November has emerged as the central point of contention in the race, with the candidates staking out opposing sides.
The bonds would pay for roads and transit, levee repairs, school construction and affordable housing. Passing all four would imperil the credit rating of the state, Parrish said.
“I think that the treasurer needs to oppose what could be considered unnecessary or imprudent bonds,” he said. “This is really bad for California to saddle us with a lot of debt.”
California should approve the $4.1 billion proposed to shore up its decaying levees, a matter of “life and death,” he said, but he opposes the other three bonds in the package.
The nearly $5 billion the state earns every year from gasoline taxes is enough to shore up California’s roads, he said.
Parrish’s stance puts him in opposition to fellow Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supports the bond package and has made it a key part of his re-election campaign.
Lockyer, 65, said he plans to vote in favor of the entire bond package. California does have the capacity to carry the added debt, he said.
“I think that investments need to be made in roads and schools and water,” he said.
As treasurer, Lockyer said he would work to write oversight requirements into any new bond issues to ensure transparency in how the money was spent.
“I think the taxpayers are entitled to get a dollar’s service for every dollar of tax they pay,” he said.
Lockyer stepped back from a run for governor this year, he said, to spend more time with his 3-year-old son and stay focused on his job as attorney general, which he has held for two terms.
He said he is “intellectually interested” in the challenges of running the treasury department and isn’t thinking about the 2010 governor’s race.
“It’s far enough away that I just want to do this well,” he said.
A veteran of state politics, Lockyer served as a state senator for 15 years, including a stint as senate president pro tem from 1994 to 1998. Previously, Lockyer, an Oakland native, served as a state assemblyman from 1973 to 1982.
Parrish, 59, has served for eight years on the Board of Equalization, which oversees gasoline, sales and property taxes.
Before entering state office, Parrish served as a Los Angeles County insurance commissioner. He has worked as a real estate developer, stock broker and small business owner, running a chain of barbershops while in his 20s.
“I don’t view this as a stepping stone to anything else,” Parrish said of his run for treasurer. “I’m not hop-scotching from office to office.”