California controller race too close to call; other contests decided

California controller race too close to call; other contests decided
Malari Swierenga votes while her son Samuel waits at Harbor Chevrolet in Long Beach. (Christina House, For The Times)

The hotly contested race for state controller, one of the top financial posts in California, remained too close to call on Tuesday night as primary election results continued to be tallied.

Republican Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Assemblyman John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Betty Yee, a Democratic Board of Equalization member, have been vying for two spots on the November ballot. Another Republican, little-known former California City Mayor David Evans, showed surprising strength as votes rolled in.


Despite California's primary system, which sends the top two finishers to the general election regardless of their party preference, most, if not all, of the statewide races this year feature a matchup between a Democrat and a Republican.

Democrat John Chiang, California's current controller, and Republican candidate Greg Conlon, a retired accountant, will face off in the general election in the race for treasurer. A third candidate, Ellen Brown of the Green Party, placed third and was eliminated.

Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, both Democrats, are seeking second terms. Harris on Tuesday advanced to the general election, and it remained unclear which Republican challenger she will face. Newsom will take on Ron Nehring, a former chairman of the state Republican Party.

State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Pete Peterson, a Republican and executive director of a public policy think tank at Pepperdine University, will compete for secretary of state after a seven-way primary. An eighth candidate, state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), still appeared on the ballot and drew a significant number of votes even though he dropped out of the race after being indicted by federal authorities on charges of corruption and conspiracy to traffic in firearms.

Dan Schnur, who tried to shake up California politics by running for secretary of state unaffiliated with any political party, fell short.

In the nonpartisan race for school superintendent, incumbent Tom Torlakson was trying to beat back a challenge from Marshall Tuck, a fellow Democrat. Tuck has worked with charter schools and a nonprofit controlled by Antonio Villaraigosa, then the mayor of Los Angeles. Torlakson was leading on Tuesday night, and he can avoid a runoff in November if he secures 50% of the vote.

The tightest primary contest was for state controller, who makes sure California's bills get paid on time and oversees a team of auditors examining state and local finances.

Swearengin was widely expected to lock down one of the spots for November, and much attention focused on Pérez and Yee fighting over the other.

Pérez, who was Assembly speaker until last month, banked on his larger war chest, which allowed him to run television ads touting his work on the state budget alongside Gov. Jerry Brown. The former labor operative from Los Angeles also enjoyed strong support from unions.

Yee raised far less money and tried to rally support from Democratic activists at the party's convention this year. She's served more than two terms on the state tax board and previously worked in Gov. Gray Davis' Department of Finance.

Both of them pledged to make extensive use of the controller's power to audit state and local finances.

Swearengin has touted her experience as mayor in Fresno, a city once on the brink of bankruptcy. She is considered one of the Republican Party's rising stars and one of its best chances to end its shutout in statewide races.

Evans, the former California City mayor who is chief financial officer for a chain of car dealerships, was also in the running Tuesday night.

Incumbent Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, a Democrat, held a strong lead Tuesday, but he still faces a rematch in November against Republican challenger Ted Gaines. Jones is a Sacramento attorney, and Gaines is an insurance broker and state senator from Rocklin.


Third-place finisher Nathalie Hrizi, a San Francisco school teacher from the Peace and Freedom Party, is out of the race.

The commissioner runs the Department of Insurance, with 1,300 employees; licenses, regulates and examines the financial strength of insurance companies; deals with public complaints and questions about the insurance industry; and enforces state in-

surance laws and regulations.

In addition to the statewide races, 11 candidates competed for four seats on the Board of Equalization, which administers tax policies.

Times staff writers Marc Lifsher and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this report.