Betty Yee officially enters the 2026 California governor's race

Former state Controller Betty Yee on Wednesday launched her campaign for California governor in 2026, joining a crowded field of Democratic candidates nearly a year after she initially said she planned to run for the job.

In an announcement video posted on social media, Yee emphasized her modest upbringing and her fiscal leadership in state government.

“People worry we have no power over our future, but I know we do,” Yee said. “That’s why I’m running for governor. We have the grit and the power to make California add up for all of us again.”

Yee joins a slate of Democrats with experience in state government but a lack of statewide name recognition vying to succeed Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is serving his second and final term in office.

Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis was the first to announce her campaign last spring. California Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond launched his bid in September. Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), former President Pro Tem of the upper house, stepped into the race in January.

State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said he’s considering, but hasn’t officially joined the race. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine), whose bid for the U.S. Senate ended after she finished in a distant third place in the March 5 primary election, is among a slew of other names mentioned in political circles as potential candidates.

In announcing her campaign, Yee told a compelling story about her upbringing, raised by her Chinese immigrant parents with her five siblings in a studio apartment behind the family’s dry cleaning business in San Francisco.

“Our parents didn’t speak English so I managed the books, dealing with banks and suppliers to get things done,” Yee said, adding that she learned what numbers meant for family. “If earnings for the week came up short, we got by with one less carton of milk or loaf of bread. I learned when things are out of balance, many communities are left to fend for themselves and sometimes left behind.”

Yee’s campaign website says she began overseeing the finances of the business when she was 8 years old. A product of public schools, she studied sociology at UC Berkeley and attended Golden Gate University for her master’s in public administration.

Yee served as state budget director under former Gov. Gray Davis before winning a seat on the California State Board of Equalization in 2006 and again in 2010. She was elected state controller in 2014. The following year she revealed that the Board of Equalization was failing to properly handle the money it collected and failing to collect debts that were owed. Her audits and investigations from the controller’s office, she said, found more than $4 billion in misused funds. She won her reelection bid in 2018.

Her budget experience could appeal to California voters as the state grapples with a historic shortfall. Budget projections suggest the next governor could walk into a challenging fiscal environment if state revenues don’t rebound.

Competing for support from many of the same donors could also pose a challenge for Yee and the other Democrats. Kounalakis has raised nearly $4 million for her campaign. Atkins has pulled in about $2.5 million, while Thurmond has less than $1 million.

A 2022 Times report detailed how Yee gave behind-the-scenes advice to a politically connected company seeking a $600-million no-bid government contract to provide COVID-19 masks and raised questions about her involvement. The deal with Blue Flame Medical LLC was flagged as possible fraud and the state was forced to claw back its $457-million cash advance to the company.

Times staff writer Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report.

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