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Q&A With Calif. Controller Candidate Ashley Swearengin

by Cadee Condit Gray, published

If elected as California's next controller, Ashley Swearengin would be one of only a handful of Republicans elected to a statewide office in recent memory. She is trying to change the face of a shrinking California Republican Party.

Mayor Swearengin is campaigning as an independent, nonpartisan problem solver. Swearengin serves as the Mayor of Fresno, the fifth largest city in California. She fought hard to keep Fresno out of bankruptcy during the recession.

As mayor, Swearengin has focused on public safety, homelessness, and the unemployment rates in Fresno. She has never held a partisan office. Her refusal to endorse the Republican nominee for governor has ruffled the feathers of partisan Republicans.

IVN submitted the following question to the Swearengin campaign.


IVN: What is your strategy on connecting with Decline-to-State Voters?

Swearengin: "We’re working to connect with all voters, regardless of partisanship. Our message is consistent across the board:  California needs sound finances and a strong focus on economic development. As controller, I’ll audit state government to eliminate waste and inefficiency. The controller is meant to be the “independent” watchdog of the treasury. That means the controller shouldn’t be a longtime government insider like my opponent, who has spent her entire career in state government. Rather, the controller should be an independent set of eyes looking over state government and identifying where we can be more efficient and more effective with our tax dollars."


IVN: How do you plan on winning in a blue state?

Swearengin: "As a mayor, I serve in a nonpartisan office, and that’s all I know in public service. Our campaign is not about partisanship, but rather about reforming how the state does business, eliminating waste and inefficiency, and focusing on economic development. That’s a message that spans across all partisan lines."


IVN: Are you in favor of California’s top-two primary?

Swearengin: "I believe the “top two” primary system was a positive change for California and, while it will take another election cycle or two to truly evaluate whether it has the intended effect on our political system, I think the voters made the right decision to implement this reform."


IVN: How do we make it less expensive for candidates to run for statewide office?

Swearengin: "I’m not entirely sure, because California is such a large state. However, I believe we have to do a better job putting forth candidates who talk about solutions that matter to people’s situations. One of the reasons why campaigning is so costly is because so many voters are disinterested. If we restore that interest by talking about things that really matter, then we can engage in a discussion of ideas without having to spend so much just to get people’s attention."


IVN: What are your thoughts on why the Republican Party's registration has been on the decline? Do you have a strategy to reverse that trend? 

Swearengin: "Well, We as Republicans need to do a better job presenting our solutions to the voters, showing them why our ideas work. For example, our ideas for economic development and job creation are exactly what California needs, not only to provide more opportunities for families, but also to provide more revenues to the state so we can cover our obligations."


IVN: What are the key differences between you and your opponent? 

Swearengin: "There are many, but probably the biggest is how we approach the job. My opponent is a life-long government employee and ‘insider.’ She doesn’t believe anything is wrong with the system.

By contrast, I’m a mayor and someone who will bring a fresh, independent perspective to government, looking for solutions to the problems that have plagued our system. By definition, the controller is the watchdog of the treasury and should be that set of independent eyes looking over state government.

The other major difference is our track record. As mayor, I inherited a city close to bankruptcy. We cut spending, reformed the budget process, and now have a balanced budget and healthy economic outlook.

My opponent was Governor Gray Davis’ deputy of finance, where she worked on budget issues. She inherited a state budget that was balanced and had long-term stability. Four years later, when she left, the state was $35 billion in debt, and had huge, structural budget imbalances."


IVN: How has serving as the Mayor of Fresno prepared you to serve as California’s next controller? 

Swearengin: "Being mayor of a 3,200-person agency and overseeing a $1 billion budget teaches you a lot about being a good executive. The state controller is an executive position. My opponent has no executive experience. We can’t have on-the-job training at the state level."


IVN: What has been your biggest accomplishment as mayor of Fresno?

Swearengin: "When I was first elected, Fresno was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. We cut spending – deeply – and reformed the budget and planning process. Now, the city has a balanced budget and is building a reserve. At the same time, we also reformed how the city approaches economic development. That includes rewriting the 65-year-old development code and creating infrastructure plans that support private sector growth. This year, several reports have come out showing Fresno to be a leader, both state and nationally, in job creation. It’s all working together, and our city is definitely on the rise."

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