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Fresno mayor touts independence in bid

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POSTED August 26, 2014 7:46 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who is regarded as the Republican Party’s best hope for winning a statewide office in November, introduced herself on Tuesday as an outsider who would bring fiscal independence as California’s state controller.

Swearengin said during an appearance at the Sacramento Press Club that she is the best person for managing the state’s finances because she would not have to cater to the demands of Democrats, California’s majority party.

“I think I’m the right person for the job because I believe this job requires independence, free from one political party, a major political party in power here in Sacramento,” Swearengin said. “I think we need an outsider.”

Swearengin finished first in the June primary and is running against Democrat Betty Yee, a member of the state Board of Equalization. Yee edged out former Assembly Speaker John Perez, a Los Angeles Democrat, by just 481 votes out of nearly 4.5 million votes cast in the race.

Swearengin, 42, touted her experience pleading California’s fifth largest city with 3,200 workers.

Elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, Swearengin focused on her experience managing Fresno’s finances amid the recession, taking both short-term and long-term actions to prevent municipal bankruptcy.

She said one of the highlights of her tenure was zeroing out negative fund balances in city accounts.

Swearengin contrasted herself with Yee, 56, a longtime legislative and administrative staffer before being elected to the five-member tax commission in 2006.

“Being the direct elected executive is very different from being a government staffer, a quasi-legislative function, it’s different,” Swearengin said. “Those are important roles in state government but it’s different being the one person who is accountable for all 3,200 people.”

Parke Skelton, Yee’s campaign consultant, said Swearengin has a problem if she is campaigning on Fresno’s fiscal health.

“During her term as mayor, the city of Fresno has had their bond rating downgraded three times to junk status,” Skelton said. “The city has been teetering on the brink of abyss for quite some time and she has failed to address many of the structural budget issues in the city.”

Yee’s fiscal policy work and experience working on the state budget makes her much better qualified for the controller’s job, Skelton said. “She’s not been a partisan politician,” he added.

Democrats currently hold all statewide offices.

If elected controller, Swearengin said she would focus on bringing transparency to California’s long-term liabilities, propose a fiscal framework that incorporates paying down debt, and initiate a review of the controller’s office to improve management and training of the department. Skelton said Yee would be open to a review of the controller’s office.

Swearengin said she continues to support the high-speed rail project championed by Gov. Jerry Brown despite criticism from her own party. She credited the Democratic governor and Legislature for passing a responsible budget this year.

She also said she is evaluating whether to vote for GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari.

Kashkari, a millionaire and former Goldman Sachs banker who trails Brown in election polls, announced last month that he spent a week living as a homeless person in Fresno to highlight the disparity between the governor’s claim that the state is making an economic comeback and the reality faced by the working poor.

Swearengin said even though she understood Kashkari’s point, she was surprised by his visit.

“I wish I could have known,” she said about wanting to show him new housing for the homeless.

Mary-Sarah Kinner, communications director for Kashkari’s campaign, said he supports Swearengin and looks “forward to voting for her and the entire Republican ticket.”

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