In the race for controller, both major candidates have held responsible positions in state government but neither is a household name.
However, the job that John Chiang and Tony Strickland seek is a platform that has launched a number of notable careers in California politics, including those of former Gov. Gray Davis and the late Sen. Alan Cranston.
Chiang, a Democrat, is chairman of the State Board of Equalization, a five-member elected panel that hears appeals of state tax decisions and interprets the volumes of regulation that make up the state tax code.
Strickland, a Republican, was a state assemblyman for six years until he was termed out in 2004.
Married to Assemblywoman Audra Strickland (R-Moorpark), he has served as a top aide to longtime conservative legislator Tom McClintock, now a state senator running for lieutenant governor.
Barely reaching a simmer for most of the fall, the race has been cast by Chiang as a choice between fiscal expertise and politics. An attorney with a degree in accounting, Chiang has dealt with the minutiae of tax law both as a staff attorney for the Internal Revenue Service and as an equalization board member since 1997.
He points to his ability to make arcane regulations understandable to ordinary taxpayers, citing the business and tax outreach programs he initiated.
Strickland, the Assembly’s youngest member when he was elected at 28, contends that political know-how is a plus for the state’s chief financial officer. He emphasizes his role in suing then-Gov. Davis to reveal details of the state’s contracts with energy companies -- which Strickland says limited the damage done to the state during the 2001 energy crisis.
If he is elected controller, he promises to use audits more vigorously than most of his predecessors, focusing first on the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Strickland’s backers include the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.
Organizations endorsing Chiang include the Sierra Club and unions representing the state’s teachers and prison guards.
In addition to acting as a watchdog over the use of state funds, the controller sits on dozens of state panels, including the powerful State Lands Commission.
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Occupation: Chairman, State Board of Equalization
Age: 44; born in New York City.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, finance, University of South Florida; law degree, Georgetown University Law Center.
Career highlights: Appointed to Board of Equalization in 1997, first elected in 1998. Former aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and then-Controller Gray Davis.
Platform: Channel some state investments to companies developing clean energy sources; review state pension funds to diversify investments; use audits to scrutinize Department of Health Services, particularly Medi-Cal.
Occupation: President, California Club for Growth
Age: 37; born at Ft. Ord.
Personal: Married; one child.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science, Whittier College.
Career highlights: Chief aide for Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), 1996 to 1998; state assemblyman, 1998 to 2004.
Platform: Audit use of state funds by “bloated bureaucracies” such as the Los Angeles Unified School District; oppose unnecessary new taxes.