Lanhee Chen is garnering attention not only for being a Republican with a good chance to win in this week’s primary election, but also for being supportive of businesses in a state that is often cited as among the worst for them.
Running for state controller, Chen sees himself as being a voice for the private sector.
“Becoming a voice, which I think in Sacramento is often missing, in terms of a tax policy that is sounder with respect to not just efforts to bring revenue in, but more broadly how we can have a more competitive tax environment in California,” Chen said in an interview with the Business Journal.
“But I can be a voice in terms of saying ‘Hey, we got to figure out how we create a tax structure that makes more sense’ and also lead the effort to put the right options on the table so we are considering the right options when we are thinking about how to make things better in California,” he added.
Chen has won a number of endorsements, perhaps most surprisingly from the very liberal Los Angeles Times. In explaining its decision, the newspaper said it was endorsing him, in part, “because the controller should be as independent from the party in power as possible.”
Chen is the lone Republican running against one green party candidate and four Democrats including Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin. Pundits expect him to win one of the top-two positions in the primary vote Tuesday but then face steeper odds in the general election this fall as he goes against a Democrat or Green Party candidate in the heavily Democrat state.
“I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Hispanic business owners, with Asian business owners and to really talk about the business climate in and around L.A. and in California more broadly,” Chen said. “I’ve tried to glean from that what I can about some of the challenges we have on the tax policy and economic policy side of the ledger.”
Chen is on the faculty of Stanford University where he teaches public policy with a particular focus on fiscal issues, especially taxes, budget and health care and how those things fit together.
He also serves as chairman of El Camino Health, a nonprofit health care provider with facilities primarily in Mountain View and Los Gatos in the San Francisco area.
“So I understand, particularly in the health care space, some of the challenges that a relatively large employer faces up here in Bay Area,” Chen said.
“One of the things that I have been focused on is convening a new commission to look at the tax code and make recommendations on how the tax code could be harmonized and changed to create an environment that is friendlier to job creation and business creation in California.” he added.
He said he understands his limitations when it comes to tax reform. He would be just the controller and not the lead tax policy person in the state. But he can provide a venue to discuss tax reform. More important than that is how you bring about the changes that he would like to see, Chen said.
“Once this commission comes up with a variety of ideas the controller’s job is to take those ideas and drive them forward and make sure that legislators consider them,” he added.