The Untapped Power of the Controller's Office

If I were an unknown looking to make a political career in California, I'd spend years figuring out how to get myself elected state controller.

The position is little known, though the incumbent, John Chiang, has an unusually high profile because of the ongoing fiscal crisis. The controller is known mostly as the person who signs the state's checks and pays the bills. That power comes with a power to audit and investigate all sorts of programs and funds.

But controllers haven't robustly used the power--even though a dogged, prosecutorial controller could make a name for himself or herself with strong investigations. Why? Because the office, like other down-ticket executive offices, has generally been occupied by politically ambitious people who are using the controller's job as a stepping stone to higher profile office. And politically ambitious politicians, at least in California, have been careful about alienating supporters.

If the state is going to keep the office, that should change. And to his credit, Chiang -- who appears to be one of those politically ambitious politicians on his way up -- is starting to use his power more robustly by investigating local redevelopment agencies and, perhaps, other local governments. Let's hope he does even more, winning more money for staff to go after the darkest corners of California state government.

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