The candidates for state treasurer have largely stayed clear of the spotlight this election season. Colorado’s current treasurer, Republican Walker Stapleton, is term-limited and running for governor.
Democrat Dave Young is a state representative from Greeley and former math teacher. Republican Brian Watson is a real estate investor with no political experience.
Both say they want to make the role less partisan, solve issues within the Public Employees Retirement Association, or PERA, and reorganize programs like the Great Colorado Payback, which reunites residents and businesses with lost or forgotten money and property.
They answered some of our questions at a recent debate in Kersey ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Why are you running for treasurer?
Brian Watson: I really believe that experience matters. I looked out and all the people that were running were existing career politicians looking for the next paid political job. They really didn't have investment and business experience and financial experience.
For decades, I've been investing capital and looking for the best returns and been in a fiduciary responsibility. My opponent hasn’t invested capital and hasn't gone through a down economy to experience that. We don't need a career politician kicking the can down the road. We need people who have a spine who we're going to go in and make a positive difference.
Dave Young: People are not happy with the outcomes that they're seeing in the state of Colorado. We have one of the hottest economies in the country, if not the world, and yet when you get out onto the Eastern Plains, even when you get into Greeley and Brighton. You get further out in the plains, down in the San Luis Valley -- if you go into any mountain town that doesn't have a resort in it, people aren't feeling the effects of this hot economy.
As a matter of fact, their schools are really a crumbling and they have large number of vacant classrooms where their students are in there but no qualified teacher. And so, we've got to do something in order to actually change the way we are doing our financial work here in the state of Colorado so that we can invest in ourselves and get a better outcome.
What are some of specific steps you would take if elected?
Watson: So let's first talk about the unclaimed property fund. There’s over $1.3 billion of the people's money in the unclaimed property fund. I think it's the people's money and we need a treasurer who's going to be active every single day to working on behalf of the people to return those assets.
So, the first thing I'm going to do in the state treasurer's office is sit that 30-person staff down and ask them one simple but very important question, ”Who is our customer?” Because in business you better understand who your customer is. In government, our customers are the people of Colorado.
That’s absolutely vital when it comes to things like PERA. I want to go and take every single board member of PERA out for a cup of coffee or lunch and get to know them as people regardless of their political affiliation because this is a people issue and shouldn't be a partisan political issue.
I have also made a commitment not to take a salary from the government when elected. It’s because I want to do my part to try to reduce the cost and burden of government because I believe it's gotten out of control. As it relates to my business, I will remain as chairman of my company.
Young: I'm ready on day one to go back in and work with legislators to make sure that we have a not only a sustainable funding solution for PERA, but that we aren't creating a bigger vacancy problem by making the retirement package undesirable.
And that's the worry. I mean, retirement is part of a total compensation package. We have 3,000 vacancies in the state of Colorado just in teaching alone.
This is a disaster happening in our state and if we aren't compensating people in a way that fills those positions and keeps them in service, they can just drive up the road here from Greeley to go to Cheyenne and make a lot more money and they're doing it.
The unclaimed property trust fund. We have an avalanche of claims that we're going to have to address. If we temporarily hire some staff to help us clear the backlog, we can return to normal staffing once that done. But we have to address the backlog so that people actually get reunited with their property
Do you have formal stances on any of the statewide ballot measures this year? If so, what are they?
Watson: I'm against the setback amendment, Proposition 112 , because I grew up in a rural community and I know that those jobs are vitally important in those areas. And if you do it, it's going to kill the oil and gas industry in our state. And people are depending on those jobs and opportunity when it comes to the roads.
For 109 and 110 , I like 109 because it doesn't increase taxes for the people of Colorado. I encourage people to do their homework on these because there are some bills and amendments that are before us that are very, very important.
Young: I've been sitting for the last four years on the Joint Budget Committee and I know that we have a deep, deep crisis of funding all across every aspect of our state's budget and it's because of our constitutional amendments that are creating that chaos that don't allow us to actually fill the deep holes that we have.
This is why I am not in favor of Proposition 109. It says basically we're going to go into debt and we're going to use existing money in the budget in order to pay off that debt. Well, the problem is we don't have that existing money without actually taking it away from aspects of the budget that are currently in stress.
I am a little concerned about Proposition 110. It does increase sales tax and I know that people who are at lower incomes are overly taxed. But it’s a qualified yes.
What makes a good treasurer?
Watson: Everything I've done in my career is about building bridges and tearing down barriers among people regardless of their political affiliation. The state treasurer has three primary responsibilities.
One, serve as the chief financial officer of the state of Colorado. I have deep understanding of being someone who's involved with investments in business.
Two, overseeing the unclaimed property fund -- returning the assets to their rightful owner, not another bureaucrat who's gonna cause more red tape and roadblocks for you.
And the third thing is to serve on the PERA board. And for me, PERA is a people issue. It's about people like my sister was a school teacher up in boulder and we need to fight on behalf of these people so that they have a healthy, sustainable retirement.
So for someone who may not be involved in politics, it may sound like an office you may not normally know a lot about or care about, but it is a vitally important office for the people of Colorado because it impacts our financial health and wellbeing and opportunity as a state.
Young: Every voter is a taxpayer. I think everybody wants to make sure their dollars are being invested wisely, safely and transparently. And you want to make sure that you're getting a good return on your investment for that.
The example that I've used with people is if you have a plane flight, you don't want it to be exciting because what that probably means is that there's something bad happening on the flight. You want a nice boring flight.
And that's why a lot of times people don't know much about the treasurer's office because in some years it's running very smoothly and people don't pay much attention because it's running well.