Meet Betty

Accountable. Competent. Genuine. Caring. A truth-teller. A problem-solver. Former State Controller Betty Yee is a leader uniquely prepared to meet this challenging moment in California.

Betty Yee first demonstrated the power to lead when she was eight years old and began overseeing the finances at her immigrant family’s dry cleaning business. She would go on to manage the finances for the government of the world’s fifth-largest economy as California’s State Controller. Throughout nearly 40 years in public service, Betty has developed a unique reputation for competence, accountability, and a principled commitment to standing up for what’s right. Now, at a time when things feel so out of balance in our state, Betty Yee is ready to lead as our next Governor, to help make things add up for all of us in California again.

Standing Up for Her Family: A Leader from the Start

Betty was born in San Francisco to Chinese immigrant parents. Her family lived in a one-room apartment behind the family’s dry cleaning business, where she shared a sofa bed with her four sisters. During the day, Betty went to public schools wearing clothes her mother made.

Betty’s parents didn’t speak English, so at age eight, Betty began managing the books at the family dry cleaners–dealing with suppliers and banks to make sure things got done. Early on, Betty learned how numbers add up, but also what the numbers meant for her family. If weekly earnings came up short, the family got by with one less carton of milk or loaf of bread. Betty learned that when things are out of balance, too many communities are left to fend for themselves and sometimes are left behind.

A Working College Student, Caregiver, and a Leading Voice on Public Health

Betty put herself through UC Berkeley and Golden Gate University’s master’s program. During her junior year, Betty’s father was stricken with kidney failure. Betty became his advocate, helping him navigate the healthcare system until he died at age 63. This experience solidified her support for universal healthcare.

Soon after, just as Betty began working in public health, the HIV/AIDS crisis hit. So Betty started leading efforts to educate local communities on the health risks, and she helped secure critical state funding to address the epidemic. Betty also worked on domestic violence, mental health, and elder care issues and helped address health disparities among low-income women.

Raising Wages and Fighting for Economic Opportunity as the Governor’s Budget Director

As Governor Gray Davis’ Budget Director, Betty led the development of the state budget and shepherded it through the legislature. In this role, she fought for economic opportunity for all Californians, established a minimum wage for home care workers, and made groundbreaking environmental progress–working with the Clinton Administration to protect the Delta, and with the Governor to implement the nation’s first state law requiring automakers to limit carbon emissions.

Holding Corporations Accountable and Fighting Discrimination on the Board of Equalization

As an elected member of the State Board of Equalization—the state’s tax appeals body—Betty helped make the tax code more fair for working families. She stood up to multinational corporations to ensure they paid their fair share in taxes. She helped reform the tax code to ensure property tax equity for same-sex couples, as well as to allow them to file joint state income tax returns—reforms that were foundational to key U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality decisions. And she helped reduce prescription drug costs and advocated for immigrants and those without bank access.

Showing What Competent, Accountable Government Can Do as California’s Chief Financial Officer

In 2014, a journey that began with Betty managing the books at the family business culminated in her being elected State Controller, where she managed the books of the government of the world’s fifth-largest economy. Betty transformed a department of 1,400 into a more inclusive workplace singularly focused on operational excellence that earned the distinction of “fiscal first responder” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Controller, Betty put the power of her office to work as an advocate for working people, our environment, and natural resources.

  • Uncovering $7.3 billion in mismanaged spending by state and local governments and redirecting it toward real progress.
  • Ensuring California did no external borrowing to pay the state’s bills.
  • Taking on life insurance companies, forcing them to pay death benefits to surviving families rather than keeping insurance proceeds to pad their bottom line.
  • Preserving the retirement security of 3 million Californians, including 1 million teachers, keeping California’s pension funds stable while protecting taxpayers.
  • Spearheading the state Foster Youth Tax Credit to provide vital assistance to current and former foster youth.
  • Protecting thousands of jobs during COVID, by working with the Governor to keep the state’s ports from going into debt.
  • Shuttering the last state oil platform in the Santa Barbara Channel.
  • Standing up to the Trump Administration to defend our coastline and protecting and expanding coastal access for all Californians.

Advocating for People and Planet as a Nonprofit Leader

Today, Betty serves on the board of Ceres, a national nonprofit organization working with investors and companies globally to accelerate action on addressing climate risks. As a College Futures Foundation board member, Betty works to help ensure higher education meets diverse learners where they are on their unique paths to attain economic mobility.

She also serves as Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party, where she supports year-round organizing to engage voters, and with partner organizations, identifies potential candidates for local office.   

A sought-after speaker and discussion leader, Betty consistently acts on her longstanding personal commitment to mentoring aspiring leaders in public policy, public service, and politics. 

Betty also currently serves as a part-time caregiver for her mother, who is over 100 years old. Betty lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs, an interfaith leader who has spent his career advocating for civil rights and human rights.