UPDATED 3/5/14 - 6:46 PM
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin announced today that she has filed papers to run for the office of State Controller. Swearengin told Valley Public Radio she expects to make a final decision on her run by Friday.
The two-term Fresno mayor would be the only prominent Republican in the field. Two Democrats are also vying for the seat, current Speaker of the Assembly John A. Pérez and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. Current State Controller John Chiang is termed out of office this year.
Swearengin's term as mayor runs through 2016. She says recent progress in areas like city finances and the vote to reopen the Fulton Mall made the decision to run for higher office before her term is up easier.
Swearengin: "If I didn't feel like things were starting to be on solid footing I wouldn't have considered this position at this time. The reality is I'm in a term limited office and I'd love to continue doing work on behalf of Fresno area businesses for a time well beyond my time as mayor. And I think the job of state controller allows me to do that."
She says her time at city hall during the recession has helped prepare her for a job like state controller.
Swearengin: "We have packed a lot into the last five years. I think I've done 10 budgets in a time period that I normally would do five budgets only. I happened to serve at a very challenging time. I've learned a lot, I know that even when there are disagreements there are well meaning people on both sides and you just have to do your best to take a stand, do what you know is right, try to work with people who see things differently, and find a reasonable path forward."
While it's not the highest profile elected office in Sacramento the state controller essentially acts as the state's chief financial officer. Swearengin says her economic development background makes her well suited for the position.
Swearengin: "I don't think people realize just how influential the state controller is on the business competitiveness in California. It is an often overlooked role. We've seen first hand here in Fresno that depending on how tax regulations and legislation are interested we can either have a very business friendly climate or we can be turning a cold shoulder to the private sector."
Fresno State political science professor Jeff Cummins says that Swearengin could do well in the June primary.
Cummins: "I see it as a pretty strategic choice in which statewide race that she and her consultants chose. I could see a potential outcome in the primary where she garners the plurality, the most number of votes. Because on the Democratic side they could duke it out and split the Democratic vote."
He says that as a moderate Republican, she stands a better chance at winning statewide office than more conservative members of her party. But even if her bid for state controller is unsuccessful this time, it could boost her awareness for future races.
Cummins: "She realizes it's an uphill battle to win a statewide office for a Republican. And I would say it's only going to benefit her in terms of getting her name out there. We've seen this with tons of candidates where they might lose their first race but it doesn't hurt their future chances of running for other sorts of offices."
Swearengin's decision caught many in Fresno off guard, including council member Lee Brand.
Brand: "I was definitely surprised, not that she would someday run for statewide office, but I would have assumed probably 2016, but she did call me and explain what she was doing. It all made sense to me."
If Swearengin loses the state controller's race she would remain Fresno's mayor through the end of 2016. But if she wins, the city charter would require a special election to choose a new mayor early next year.
Brand says regardless of the timing of the election to select Fresno's next mayor, he's ready to throw his hat into the ring.
Brand: "For me, it's always been the plan to run for mayor in 2016, so if it accelerates one year, I'm prepared to go, whether it's 2015 or 2016."
Brand, who is also a Republican, says he wishes Swearengin well, but realizes that the odds may be long for member of the GOP running for office in a state that is dominated by the Democratic Party.
Brand: "I think she'd be a great candidate, although any Republican going for a statewide seat would be a pretty tough deal to pull off."
Swearengin was elected to her first term as mayor in 2008. It was her first run for elected office. Previously she ran economic development programs at Fresno State.