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Endorsement: Fiona Ma for state treasurer

California State Treasurer Fiona Ma speaks while gesturing with her hands
California State Treasurer Fiona Ma in Nevada City, Calif., on Aug. 30.
(Elias Funez / Associated Press)
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State treasurer is an important job that needs a steady hand to steer California through good financial times and bad.

When it comes to the top tasks of the office, incumbent Fiona Ma has done a fine job. The treasurer is the state’s banker, managing its financial assets, and serves on powerful boards and committees that oversee the state employee pension systems and award state financing for affordable housing and infrastructure projects. Ma, a Democrat who has served in the Legislature and on the Board of Equalization, is regarded as a hardworking, innovative elected official who takes seriously the office’s responsibilities and opportunities.

But Ma made some troubling missteps during her first term that undermine her on-the-job performance and could well have invited a serious challenger to her reelection. Ma chose to continue living in San Francisco after being elected, yet billed the state $32,000 for her and her chief deputy to stay in lodgings in Sacramento for two years. That’s not illegal, but it was a questionable decision to charge taxpayers for the cost of her decision to commute to work. Ma said she now travels home to San Francisco each day.

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The L.A. Times’ editorial board endorsements for statewide ballot measures, elected offices in Los Angeles city and county, L.A. Unified School District board, L.A. county superior court, statewide offices, the state Legislature and U.S. House and Senate seats.

Sept. 8, 2022

But that practice of renting lodgings near the Capitol led to another scandal. Ma was hit with a sexual harassment and wrongful-termination lawsuit last year by a former employee that stemmed from Ma sharing hotel rooms and a rental house with employees as a way to “save money for the state.” Ma has denied the allegations and plans to fight the lawsuit.

These incidents may not be reflections of her job performance, but they do raise questions about her judgment. To her credit, Ma has made some improvements to the state’s byzantine system of financing affordable housing projects, including combining two agencies to make funding more efficient. But it can still take developers two years to navigate the various applications and approval for state funding, which is a waste of time, money and effort that delays the construction of much-needed affordable and homeless housing.

In her first term Ma opposed bills to overhaul this broken process. In her second term, she should break the political logjam and lead the effort to create a one-stop shop that doles out state funding according to benefit and need. Ma can leave a lasting impact on California if she can significantly reduce the bureaucracy that slows affordable housing construction.

Ma is being challenged by Cudahy Councilmember Jack Guerrero, a Republican, who also ran in 2018. Guerrero is a certified public accountant who has worked in the financial industry for decades. He ran for local office in 2013 after several Cudahy officials pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme. Guerrero sought a state audit of the city’s finances and helped push for regulations to prevent such corruption in the future.

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Guerrero’s priorities include addressing the state’s unfunded pension liabilities and advocating to phase out public employee pensions, pushing for lower taxes and smaller government — all of which are mainstream fiscally conservative ideas that used to be debated more often in Sacramento before Democrats won control of state government.

But Guerrero also suggested slow-walking bond sales if he disagreed with legislators’ decisions — which could stall important public investments — and he cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. While California could benefit from having a greater diversity of ideas and political philosophies among state elected officials, those leaders need to operate in a world of facts, not conspiracy theories.

Ma is the better choice, again, for state treasurer.

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