Malia Cohen leading in race for California state controller

Malia Cohen, left, takes a selfie with Leticia Perez at a campaign event in Bakersfield in October.
State controller candidate Malia Cohen, left, takes a selfie with Leticia Perez at a campaign event in Bakersfield in October.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Malia Cohen, a top California tax official, appears headed toward victory in the race for state controller, early election results Wednesday morning showed.

Cohen is a Democrat who currently chairs the Board of Equalization, which oversees the state’s property tax system and other programs like alcoholic beverage taxes.

She also previously served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and as president of the San Francisco Employee Retirement System.

Cohen was ahead of Republican candidate Lanhee Chen in the vote tally late Tuesday night and declared victory. Official results will take more time to tally, however.

“I’m proud and honored to serve as your next Controller. Thank you California,” Cohen said in a statement.

Chen has been widely considered to be Republicans’ best hope to win a statewide election for the first time since 2006.


Chen did not concede Tuesday night, and campaign spokesperson Hector Barajas said “it is way too early” to call the race.

The state controller acts as an independent financial watchdog and is responsible for the disbursement of state funds and administering one of the largest public pension funds in the country.

While campaigning, Cohen labeled herself “the budget hawk” and promised to cut wasteful state spending.

She has outlined a “plan for equity,” vowing to “level the playing field” for Californians through advocacy for fair pay, affordable housing, retirement security and affordable healthcare and childcare.

“We have the fifth-largest economy in the world, and yet people are suffering at increasingly alarming rates,” she said.

She was endorsed by the California Democratic Party, Planned Parenthood and a swath of Democratic politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco.)


During the campaign, Cohen faced scrutiny of her personal finances, including a suspended business license and foreclosure of her San Francisco condo more than a decade ago.

Malia Cohen is facing scrutiny over how she has managed her personal finances following the recent suspension of her business license for unpaid taxes and the foreclosure of her San Francisco condo more than a decade ago.

Oct. 5, 2022

Cohen attributed her failure to file and pay taxes on her business to missing mail because of an address change. She said she has learned from the foreclosure of her home and become a better financial advocate because of it.

She replaces Democrat Betty Yee, who served two terms as state controller, the maximum allowed.

Chen is a public policy specialist who previously worked as an advisor on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

He also leads the board of directors of a nonprofit healthcare system in the San Francisco Bay Area and teaches public policy at Stanford.

Republicans had hoped he would secure their first statewide election in 16 years, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won reelection and Steve Poizner was elected state insurance commissioner.

Chen was also previously nominated to the Social Security Advisory Board by President Barack Obama — a point he emphasized during the campaign, labeling himself a “proven independent.”