On the record with Fiona Ma

In a candid, hour-long interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, the state treasurer and lieutenant governor candidate told us she'd "vote no on all" the warring tax measures heading for the November ballot

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THE BUZZ: Fiona Ma doesn’t pull any punches.

In a candid, hour-long interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, the state treasurer and lieutenant governor candidate told us she’d “vote no on all” the warring tax measures heading for the November ballot; that she’s not running for governor because it costs too much and she doesn’t “hang out with billionaires"; and that she’s confident in her prospects for 2026: “I haven’t lost yet.”

Ma got her start in San Francisco city politics and worked her way up through the Legislature before becoming the chief banker for the world’s fifth-largest economy. Now running for lieutenant governor in 2026, she’s hoping to shatter records and become the first Asian Californian to get the gig.

So far, she’s got state Sen. Steven Bradford and (possibly) former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs to contend with, but with two years until the election, we’re expecting the field to grow more crowded.

Here are some top takeaways from Ma’s views on California’s most pressing political and policy issues.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

On why she wants to run for the second-top job in the state — The number one job of the lieutenant governor is to be able to take over if the governor cannot. So I am the most experienced candidate that will be running.

I’ve been on the ballot 20 times and haven’t lost yet. I think I have the best experience from local, regional, tax board and now treasurer. And I’m still a certified public accountant — since 1992.

On why she doesn’t want to run for the No. 1 job — Honestly, I don’t have $30 to $100 million. I come from humble means and don’t hang out with billionaires.

On the potential bonds coming out of the Legislature — Issuing bonds are really for long-term projects that can’t get funded by other means. I think having a responsible amount is good, but not to fill the gap of an operating budget — because you can’t get out of debt with more debt.

On which bond measures she thinks should be the top priority — Housing is definitely the priority. Secondly is climate. We know that time is ticking not only in the air but also in the ocean. I’m leading the effort to fight Exxon Mobil. I’ve been standing with climate youth in trying to divest from fossil fuels and companies that are not doing the right thing to transition.

So climate is definitely the priority. And then education. They’re all priorities.

On how she views UC students’ calls to divest from Israel — I believe in free speech. As long as it is not violent, and it’s not threatening. We have to protect the health and welfare of our students on the campuses.

Israel has always been an ally of ours, so I would not support divestment from Israel.

On whether California needs to move away from taxing top earners to end the boom-and-bust budget cycle — If you’re going to take away a tax, what are you going to replace it with? And that’s the difficulty, nobody wants to tax anything else.

We tax tobacco at a very high rate, we have tried to put like a nickel or a penny a cent on drinks, sugar tax, candy, we try everything and then what happens? It doesn’t pass. If we’re going to change the tax system from the way it is, we have to figure out what we can replace it with so we aren’t too highly dependent on personal income tax and corporation tax and sales tax.

On the multiple warring tax ballot initiatives — I would vote no on all of them. I don’t like the initiative process. We have a legislature and it’s working. That’s why we elect legislators.

On whether there’s been a shift in the conversation about public safety — I know in San Francisco there has been a shift. After the Asian hate crimes, our DA at the time did not do anything, would not step up, stand up or take any of these cases on. So we recalled the DA, [Chesa Boudin], and that was mostly the Chinese community.

So in San Francisco, the Chinese community is leading the effort with what’s happening in the city. They’re not happy with all the retail theft, they’re not happy with the car break-ins. We’re not happy with our safety on the streets and we’ll see what happens in November when we elect our mayor.

On the behind-the-scenes discussions with other politicians that come before launching a campaign — If we’re friends, we will say ‘hey, we have musical chairs, right? We have term limits. Everyone has to figure it out. What are you interested in doing? Let’s get it out early.’

Initially I said I wanted to run for governor, kind of off the cuff at a media thing because Betty [Yee] was like, ‘well, I’m definitely in,’ then Eleni [Kounalakis] was like ‘OK, me too.’

If I get elected lieutenant governor, I’ll be the first Asian woman elected and that’ll break the ceiling because normally Asians only get elected to treasurer and controller. They’ve never risen above that.

So, you know, we sit around and we talk about it.