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Tax Panel Official Parrish in Uphill Fight Against Atty. Gen. Lockyer for Treasurer

October 11, 2006|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Claude Parrish likes to say he's been named treasurer of just about everything he's been involved in, from the Echo Park Coin Club to the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.

But the 59-year-old Parrish, a member of the powerful if obscure state Board of Equalization, faces his toughest treasurer run yet in his November matchup against state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer.

Before spending eight years as the state's top law enforcement official, Lockyer, 65, was a fixture in the Legislature, serving from 1973 to 1998 and spending his final four years as Senate president pro tem. A Democrat with funds remaining from past campaigns, he has more than $10.5 million at his disposal.

Lockyer said he has TV and radio commercials prepared, but is not certain he'll have to use them. A recent Los Angeles Times poll showed Lockyer well ahead of Parrish at 50% to 26%.

A former barbershop owner and property manager who describes himself as a self-made man, Parrish acknowledges that his candidacy is an uphill battle. Still, he hopes voters are swayed by his eight years of navigating tax law and fiscal policies as a member of the Board of Equalization.

"Bill Lockyer is good at what he does, but I'm good at what I do," he said, contending that his credentials in finance are more persuasive than his opponent's.

Parrish has about $334,000 in campaign funds, an astonishingly low figure for a Republican nominee for statewide office -- and less cash than it takes to run for some city council seats.

Lockyer, who withdrew from contention for the governor's post last year, says he is better prepared for the treasurer's job, both through relentless budget battles in the Legislature and in the prosecution of corporate crimes as attorney general.

He said his political skills will make him at least as effective a treasurer as fellow Democrat Phil Angelides, who is termed out and leaving the post to run for governor.

"Phil frequently had brilliant ideas but had difficulty getting them implemented," Lockyer said. "I have a long history of translating ideas into practical realities."

He cited his push for Internet access to the Megan's Law registry of sex offenders. The site has received more than 300 million hits, he said.

The treasurer functions as the state's chief banker, managing about $63 billion in taxpayer funds and serving on the boards of two state pension funds that are the largest in the U.S. The treasurer also is responsible for financing long-term capital projects such as highways and higher-education facilities.

In an interview, Parrish reeled off a series of tasks he would set himself as treasurer. He said the state could earn millions of dollars in tax revenues by issuing bonds through brokers based in California instead of on Wall Street. Parrish said he would seek to sell tax-free bonds in denominations as low as $100 instead of the current $5,000, increasing their appeal to average residents. And he said he would argue against most additional debt.

"The treasurer has to stand tall," said Parrish, who is leaving the equalization board because of term limits. "The treasurer has to say, 'That's enough.' "

On the tax board, Parrish has cast himself as an advocate for taxpayers. One of his proudest achievements, he said, was engineering the end of a sales tax on globes, maps and other equipment that come to classrooms whose students make purchases from book clubs.

He also took responsibility for the board's lifting a sales tax on chamomile tea.

Earlier this year, he took some heat for allegedly hiring a Republican activist as his deputy to make her appear more experienced when she ran for his seat in the June primary.

Parrish denied any wrongdoing and predicted that the activist, Michelle Steel, will be elected in November and prove to be one of the panel's "best-educated, best-trained" members.

Lockyer paints the treasurer's job in broader strokes than Parrish, talking about the need to finance improvements of the state's strained highways, crowded schools and outdated water systems.

"The treasurer is the chief investment officer for the state, but that's an overly formalistic and dry way to describe the job," he said. "The way I see it, it's a chance to actively participate in planning for future growth."

With the treasurer's influence over state pension funds, Lockyer said, he would work toward reducing the cost of healthcare for state employees and retirees.

The Public Employees Retirement System "is the third-largest purchaser of healthcare in the U.S.," he said. "We should have the ability to make better deals."

Although the treasurer does not craft the state budget, Lockyer said he would use the office to advocate for a balanced budget.

"Our inability to address the deficit is injuring our ability to attract business and investment," he said. "It costs us substantially in our credit rating, which, at 49th out of 50, is slightly above Louisiana's."

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