Every once in awhile, California gets a major public official who thrives on telling the unvarnished truth. In recent history, these have usually held the office of state treasurer, a low-visibility post that can give its occupant plenty of time to ruminate.
First in this line in the modern era was Jesse Unruh, for whom a political studies institute at USC is now named. Unruh, the ultimate politician during his 1960s tenure as speaker of the state Assembly, predicted while treasurer in the 1970s precisely the kind of budget conundrums California would face for almost 20 years starting in the mid-1990s.
The early-book favorite to be the next treasurer, current Democratic state Controller John Chiang, also pulls few punches in his monthly reports on state finances and has not hesitated to offend legislators in both major parties by doing things like holding up their pay during a budget impasse.
Current Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who somewhat like Unruh was once a consummate legislative politician as president of the state Senate, loves to uphold the tradition. Back in 2003, he confided while attorney general that he had voted for a Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the special election to recall then-Gov. Gray Davis, a fellow Democrat. But for years after that, Lockyer never hesitated to cross Schwarzenegger, especially when the muscleman “governator” sometimes tried to treat the attorney general as something like a personal lawyer...