There are a number of political institutions in the State of California, from the obvious political parties to state entities governing how elections are conducted in this state. California’s constitutional officers (i.e., those elected to statewide office) besides the governor are also important political institutions.
In addition to the Governor, California has eight other constitutional offices, including two offices that are normally appointees of a governor in most other states: Superintendent of Public Instruction and Insurance Commissioner. Note that, even though there are four members of the Board of Equalization, they are described here as one statewide office.
The Lt. Governor has a largely ceremonial role in this state. He or she runs separately (i.e., the Lt. Governor is not on the same ticket as the governor, as opposed to how the President and Vice President of the United States are elected jointly) and officially serves as the President of the State Senate (casting a vote in the case of a tie). The Lt. Governor also serves on a number of boards and commissions, such as the Chair of the State Lands Commission.
Under California’s Constitution, the Lieutenant Governor serves as Acting Governor whenever the Governor is absent from the state and automatically becomes Governor if a vacancy occurs in the Office of Governor. The Lieutenant Governor serves as a voting member of the Board of Regents of the University of California and a voting member of the Board of Trustees of the California State University system.
In addition, pursuant to state law, the Lieutenant Governor chairs the California Commission for Economic Development, which provides support and guidance to the Governor, Legislature and private sector regarding the development of California’s economy. The Commission is composed of appointees from the Legislature and the Governor.
The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the state. The California Constitution establishes the Attorney General as the state’s chief law officer and is responsible for ensuring that the laws of the state are enforced. The Attorney General is vested with broad powers and carries out these duties through the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice includes over 4,500 employees who are engaged in a variety of law enforcement and legal services and has main offices in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and Fresno.
As the chief fiscal officer of California, the fifth largest economy in the world, the Controller is responsible for accountability and disbursement of the state’s financial resources, and conducts independent audits of government agencies that spend state funds. This position also administers the payroll system for state government employees and California State University employee, and the Controller serves on 70 boards and commissions with authority ranging from state public land management to crime victim compensation.
In addition, the Controller is a member of numerous financing authorities, as well as fiscal and financial oversight entities including the Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization. The Controller also serves on the boards of the nation’s two largest public pension funds. The Controller’s Office also handles the state’s unclaimed property work.
The State Treasurer has broad responsibilities and authority in the areas of investment and finance and serves as the State’s lead asset manager, banker and financier. In addition, the Treasurer serves as chairperson or a member of numerous State authorities, boards and commissions including the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).
In addition, the Treasurer plays a key role in statewide housing finance as Chair of the Tax Credit Allocation Committee that awards hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits for affordable housing and as a member of the Board of the California Housing Finance Agency, which finances affordable housing.
Secretary of State
The Secretary of State is an important player as a political institution because the office is where all of the campaign and lobbying filings are made. As a result, campaign contributions to campaign expenditures to reports by lobbyists and lobbyist employers are all filed online with the Secretary of State and its Political Reform Division. All of these filings are available to members of the public and media and the SOS is the clearinghouse for these materials.
The Secretary of State’s office is comprised of nearly 500 people whose responsibilities include making government more transparent and accessible in the areas of elections, business, political campaigning, legislative advocacy, and historical treasures.
The elected Insurance Commissioner regulates almost all lines of insurance (with the notable exception of workers’ compensation). He or she heads the Department of Insurance (CDI), which was created in 1868 as part of a national system of state-based insurance regulation. Today, CDI is the largest consumer protection agency in the state.
Nearly 1,400 dedicated employees work at CDI to oversee more than 1,300 insurance companies and license more than 410,000 agents, brokers, adjusters, and business entities. In the normal course of business, CDI annually processes more than 8,000 rate applications, issues approximately 190,000 licenses (new and renewals) and performs hundreds of financial reviews and examinations of insurers doing business in California.
CDI enforces the insurance laws of California and has authority over how insurers and licensees conduct business in California. License fees, assessments, and Proposition 103 recoupment fees are the primary sources of funding for CDI.
Superintendent of Public Instruction
The State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) is the nonpartisan (originally partisan) elected executive officer of the California Department of Education. The SPI directs all functions of the Department of Education, executes policies set by the California State Board of Education, and also heads and chairs the Board.
In addition, he or she serves as the state’s chief spokesperson for public schools, provides education policy and direction to local school districts, and serves as an ex officio member of governing boards of the state’s higher education system.
State Board of Equalization
The Board of Equalization (BOE) actually has five members (the Controller by his or her position, plus the four elected BOE members) and they represent four districts for the entire state. Their job is primarily regarding local property tax assessments, but there are some areas of taxation that are under its purview as set forth in the state constitution, such as aircraft assessment and insurance taxation.
Established in 1879 by a constitutional amendment, the BOE was initially charged with responsibility for ensuring that county property tax assessment practices were equal and uniform throughout the state. Over the years, the legislature expanded the BOE’s subject matter to include many taxes and fees. In 2017 and 2018, the legislature created two new tax administration and appeals agencies, reassigning some of the BOE’s tax functions. As a result, the BOE is now focused on its property tax oversight and its constitutional responsibilities.
In addition to administering these programs, the BOE plays a critical role with regard to California property taxes. The BOE acts in an oversight capacity to ensure compliance by County assessors with property tax laws, regulations, and assessment issues. To perform the oversight functions, the BOE’s Property Tax department conducts periodic compliance audits (surveys) of the 58 county assessors’ programs, and develops property tax assessment policies and informational materials to guide county assessors and local assessment appeals boards.
All of these constitutional offices are subject to election every four years at the same time as the governor is on the statewide ballot. They take office on the first Monday following January 1.
Chris Micheli is a Principal with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli, Inc. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor at McGeorge School of Law in its Capital Lawyering Program.