By Emily Hoeven, Cal Matters
Lanhee Chen has a few confessions to make.
The Republican candidate for California state controller, who will face off against Democrat Malia Cohen in the November general election, told me in an exclusive interview on Thursday that he did not vote for Donald Trump for president in either 2016 or 2020 — and doesn’t plan to support Trump if he runs in 2024. “There are a lot of people who I believe would be better for the job than the former president,” he said.
Chen has taken pains to distance himself from Trump — in an April interview with CalMatters, he described the Jan. 6, 2021 siege on the U.S. Capitol as an “abomination” and “an attack on democracy” — but has never before publicly revealed whether he voted for the former president.
So why now, a few weeks after the June 7 primary when California voters made him the top vote-getter for controller?
“He’s still an issue in our politics,” Chen told me. “I’ve been watching these hearings that have been going on, on what happened on January 6th … and I think it’s disgusting. The more I look at it, the more disgusted I am with the kind of behavior we saw that day from people. … I believe that the former president bears some culpability for what happened on January 6th, and I think now we’re discovering the extent of that culpability.”
He added, “As more is revealed, people are gonna want to know” how he voted.
- So here’s how he voted: Chen said he’s “pretty sure” that in 2016 he wrote in Mitt Romney, on whose presidential campaign he had previously worked. And in 2020, “I actually left my ballot blank,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I could vote for either President Biden, nor could I vote for former President Trump.”
Chen also shared his stance on abortion in more specific terms than he has in the past. Cohen, who has vowed to “do everything under my power to uphold funding for our reproductive freedom,” has repeatedly called on Chen to disclose his views on abortion. Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week striking down the federal constitutional right to an abortion, Chen pledged to “never restrict nor interfere with a woman’s ability to get an abortion or access to abortion services.”
But he went a bit further in our Thursday conversation. “I support women’s reproductive freedoms,” he told me. “And that includes access to family planning services, to contraceptives and abortions, as allowed under California law.”
- Nevertheless, Chen said he has “some concerns” about a November ballot measure to enshrine in California’s constitution the right to abortion and contraception — an initiative Cohen says she supports.
- Chen: “On the one hand, I have heard from people who are abortion rights advocates that there’s a concern that the way the amendment’s been written” could “result in more litigation and potentially endanger women’s reproductive freedoms. I don’t think we want to do that. … On the other side are people who oppose abortion, who argue that this would open the door and create a possibility to go beyond what’s allowed in California law now, and potentially, for example, raise the possibility of late-term abortions, which I oppose.”
Chen stressed that he’s sharing his views on these topics not because of pressure from Cohen, or because of the mathematically uphill battle he faces in solidly Democratic California — a challenge he plans to tackle with sustained outreach to Asian American, Latino and African American voters — but because “it’s just a sense I have” that “they continue to be questions that people are asking.”
- Chen: “Let’s answer them, let’s make it clear kind of where the perspective is, and then let’s move on to talk about the issues that the controller really has control over. And, you know, by the way, abortion is not one of them. And nor, by the way, is who’s president in four years.”