Distribution of ballots: who are these people?

Shelly Arsneault

What is the difference between state comptroller and state treasurer? What does the insurance commissioner do? Shelly Arsneault, a professor of political science and public affairs at Cal State Fullerton, recently broke down the California ballot by explaining what each position does and why voting for them is essential. More information can also be found at ca.gov.

“California’s executive branch is more than the governor,” Arsneault said. “That’s why it’s sometimes so complicated. We are used to the federal system where the president appoints. But in California, we elect all these others.

“In some cases, even the lieutenant governor (he takes over if the governor has to leave office) may belong to a different political party. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. On the ballot, voters will vote not only for the governor but for seven other members of the executive. Additionally, there are four members of the Equalization Board but voters will only vote for one, depending on the district in which they live.

The governor

“The supreme executive power of this state is vested in the governor,” Arsneault explained. “The governor will see that the law is faithfully carried out.

“The state of the state address is important because it gets him talking about what’s going on,” Arsenault said. “He sets his agenda but cannot engage in politics. This is where the power of persuasion comes into play as he tries to come up with policies he would like to see adopted.

California has a “Professional Legislature”, which means members have no other “day jobs”. The governor has the power to recall members out of session but this rarely happens since these elected officials meet regularly.

The governor also has the power to veto legislation, both general and by section, which means he can literally strike out a line like “I’m going to pass this, but we’re not spending that much money.” money for it”.

The state budget is presented to the governor each January and is signed by July 1, although this deadline is not always met.

The governor is also making multiple appointments that include administration officials, board and commission members, serving unexpired terms for the courts and open seats in the U.S. Senate. (This happened when Kamala Harris was chosen as Vice President. It created a cascading event when Harris’ Senate seat went to Alex Padilla who in turn opened his position as Secretary of State to Shirley Weber.)

The governor can also serve as commander-in-chief of the California National Guard and can commute prison sentences (this doesn’t happen often, and governors rarely go against parole board recommendations).

Lieutenant Governor

In this role, after the incumbent governor, the lieutenant governor serves as the president of the state senate and may be called upon to play a decisive role. Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis became the first woman to sign law in California in April (Newsom was out of town). California has never had a female governor.

The Lieutenant Governor also sits on numerous boards and commissions, rotates chairs of the State Lands Commission (dealing with issues such as offshore oil drilling, lands, etc.), and chairs the California Commission for economic development, among other responsibilities. .

Attorney General

The Attorney General is often considered the second most important leader. They often run for governor (and don’t always have to do what the governor wants). To serve, they must have been a lawyer (and pass the California bar exam) for at least five years.

The functions of this office include overseeing the Department of Justice, representing the interests of the state in court cases, providing legal advice to state officials and agencies, and maintaining oversight of state prosecutors. the state and law enforcement.

Some of the more recent trends in this position include the use of the office for consumer and environmental protection and the pursuit of the federal government.

“It was a trend under the Obama administration because conservative states were suing the federal government over environmental issues,” Arsneault said. “Trump did the same thing. So in California, when environmental legislation was scrapped, our attorney general took a dive.

Secretary of State

It is the Chief Clerk who bestows great power, including as Chief Electoral Officer and overseeing the direct democracy process, including ballot initiatives. (Half of the states do not have the capacity to engage in direct democracy.) This representative ensures that petitions are correct before they can go forward. California has over 20 million registered voters with voter information in 10 different languages.

The Secretary of State also oversees state government records and archives as well as “safe at home” records (this allows those in danger to obtain an alternate address so they cannot be easily tracked) and national partner registers.

This representative also grants charters to corporations, incorporates nonprofit organizations, and serves as a trustee of the California Museum, an important archive.

Controller (in some states called Controller)

The state tax agent, in a sense, writes the paychecks of state employees. In addition, this representative maintains accounts of state government finances, oversees the division of unclaimed property (this may include tax rebates/refunds that have never been collected or unclaimed property in banks ), audits state financial records and oversees the accounts and audit of local government finances. procedures. (This includes special districts such as OCTA. There are 4,000 special districts in California. If a project’s name ends in “district” or “authority,” chances are it’s overseen by the controller.)

Members of the Comptroller’s Office also serve on more than 70 state boards. This includes everything from the Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization to CalPERS and CalSTRS retirement advice.

This representative is also responsible for a significant level of oversight and interactions relating to financial/tax matters.


Although considered less powerful than the Comptroller, this individual serves as the state’s investment and financing banker, ensuring that California maintains a good credit rating (to borrow money for development projects). investment such as infrastructure).

The Treasurer also oversees state pension funds (a huge job due to the large number of people represented in these systems) and oversees the sale and redemption of government bonds.

Additionally, the Treasurer chairs or sits on dozens of boards, including CalPERS and CASTRS, California School Finance Authority, California Transportation Financing Authority, ScholarShare Investment Board, and others.

State Board of Equalization

There are four districts in California and with a representative for each district. (Orange County is in District 4. Los Angeles is District 3 – it has its own district depending on its size.) The State Comptroller is the fifth member.

This board was created to regulate property assessment practices, oversee and collect taxes (including property taxes), maintain oversight of assessors, and even review liquor taxes and fees.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

This representative oversees the Ministry of Education. It is the only non-partisan executive office (individuals can have party affiliations, but they are not allowed to share them).

Although the primary focus is K-12 students, the superintendent also oversees some preschool and adult education. This representative also sits on the CSU Board of Directors and the UC Board of Directors.

Insurance Commissioner

Until 1988, this representative was appointed by the governor. Since then, the commissioner is now elected on the initiative. (The assumption was that former insurance commissioners weren’t as responsive as they should have been and if it was an elected position they would be more responsive.)

The Insurance Commissioner regulates the insurance industry (including home, auto, health, long-term care, workers’ compensation, pet insurance). This department also supervises agencies, brokers and agents; issues licenses; handles consumer complaints; investigates and prosecutes the fraud.