Treasurer Candidates: Office needs experience

The seven candidates for Colorado treasurer all have their focus for what they would do if elected next year, but few have focused their campaigns on what that office actually does.

Most have touted their fiscal conservativeness or ability to balance budgets.

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While some are talking about improving funding for public schools, others are campaigning on such things as keeping government out of the way of business or changing budgeting practices that the Legislature uses.

Thing is, though, the treasure’s office has nothing to do with any of that.

The office has three duties: managing the state’s $6 billion investment portfolio; overseeing unclaimed financial property; and serving on several state boards, most notably the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association.

Of the eight candidates running for the seat — six Republicans and two Democrats — only two have kept their focus almost exclusively on those matters.

Two of the lesser known and newest candidates in the race, Hayden Republican Brett Barkey and Denver Democrat Bernard Douthit, said they understand why the other candidates would expand their focus.

BARKEY_Brett_file_mug_190x250.jpg“One of the things a candidate has to try to balance is creating some interest in the race,” Barkey said. “If we stuck brutally to the constitutional and statutory role of the state treasurer, the yawn would break out across any gathering of Republicans or Democrats.”

As a result, many of the candidates, including past treasurers, have used the office as a bully pulpit, a place to spout their beliefs about state finances and budgeting in general.

Barkey, the term-limited district attorney for Moffat, Routt and Grand counties, says that’s alright, but the race shouldn’t be just about that.

“The state treasurer, as a statewide elected official, should be a part of the conversation about Colorado’s long-term economic goals,” he said.

Still, like the current treasurer and the one before him, Republican Walker Stapleton and Democrat Cary Kennedy, both of whom are running for governor, Barkey says the person who holds the job should at least have a background in investment management.

Of the six Republicans in the race for the GOP nomination for the seat, only two have college degrees in finance or economics and have worked in the investment field: Barkey and Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton.

Republican Brita Horn, who has a degree in fire science, is treasurer and public trustee for Routt County. The remaining Republicans have experience in business. Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud operates a media production company, Rep. Polly Lawrence of Parker worked in a construction firm and Denver real estate broker Brian Watson, an Olathe High School graduate who jumped into the race on Friday, has a degree in real estate.

In Douthit’s case, he’s facing only one other person for the Democrat nomination, Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton. Lebsock has a degree in sociology; Douthit’s is in finance and economics.

Douthit said that, like the other candidates, he has his own ideas about how state government should operate regardless of whether the treasurer’s office has any actual say in such matters.

“There is a bully pulpit perspective, but also a competency perspective,” Douthit said. “The Democrats need somebody who is competent and solid in this job, and is going to be able to articulate to voters that we are going to need to make some investments.”

While all the candidates have talked about the need to reform PERA, only Barkey has outlined a plan to do so, though many in the pension fund might not like it.

Douthit said it should stay, but needs to keep a sharp focus on remaining actuarially solvent even if that means cutting future benefits.

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