A Southern California police officer unseated the president of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System in a local government election that could signal a change in direction for the nation’s largest public pension fund.
Corona police officer Jason Perez defeated 15-year CalPERS Board of Administration member Priya Mathur, according to election results CalPERS released on Thursday.
Perez was a first-time candidate who said when he launched his campaign that he wanted to run because he was worried about the $360 billion pension fund, and “I’m selfish; I want to retire.” At a debate, he said he wanted the pension fund to focus on maximizing returns from its investments.
Mathur, a BART financial analyst, argued in her campaign that her experience serving on the board helped her shape policies that prevented steep health care cost increases and worked to protect the fund from an economic downturn.
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She was elected president of the board in January on a 7-6 vote. Her defeat means the board will have to select a new president in January.
Perez received 9,208 votes; Mathur received 7,008.
CalPERS is overseen by a 13 member board of administration. Four members are appointed by the governor, one is the state controller, one is the state treasurer, one is appointed by the Legislature, and six are selected by public employees and retirees in elections.
Perez’s union, the Corona Police Officers Association, has been sending members regularly to speak at CalPERS board meetings in Sacramento for the past two years. Its members have discouraged the board from spending much time on environmental and social investment programs, instead urging the fund to focus on making money from any legal source.
CalPERS is considered underfunded because its assets are worth about 71 percent of what it owes in promised benefits to retirees and public employees. Some cities, including Corona, have complained that rising pension costs are inhibiting their ability to fund other services.
Perez had support from CalPERS board member Margaret Brown and former board member J.J. Jelincic, who have been at odds with Mathur.