Republicans differ on Delaware treasurer’s role [video]

(File/WHYY)

(File/WHYY)

It’s been a wild primary campaign for candidates for state treasurer, and it looks like the race will intensify in the days preceding Tuesday’s vote.

A little bit of the air was let out of the treasurer’s race when Chip Flowers quit the Democratic primary late in August after delays and uncertainty about his withdrawal. But with Flowers’ name off of the ballot, Sean Barney, Flowers’ presumptive challenger for the Democratic slot, was automatically placed on the general election ballot for November.

With the Democratic field narrowed, two candidates are in the running for Republican voters to select on Tuesday, Sept. 9: Sher Valenzuela and Ken Simpler.

Valenzuela made a name for herself during her 2012 campaign for lieutenant governor, even snagging an early evening speaking role at the Republican National Convention that nominated Mitt Romney for president. She believes her experience building and running her industrial upholstery business in Milford gives her the credentials to be Delaware’s next treasurer.

“I really believe that we need a small business, business strategist, finance strategist in that role. [Someone] that takes a conservative approach versus a hedge fund approach,” Valenzuela said.

The “hedge fund approach” line is directed at her Republican opponent Ken Simpler. Simpler is a newcomer to the Delaware political scene as a candidate, but he’s well versed in the finance world. For the past 20 years, he’s worked as asset manager for a global investment fund and chief financial officer for the Rehoboth-based Seabord Hotels.

“If you have spent your career investing money, and/or dealing with finance matters as a chief financial officer, I think you bring a tool kit to the job where you can improve the operations of those and ensure that the job is handled professionally,” Simpler said.

Different visions

In addition to drastically different backgrounds, Simpler and Valenzuela have different visions for the treasurer’s role.

For Simpler, the goal of the treasurer should be to manage the state’s money effectively and efficiently. He’d like to find ways to improve the return on the state’s investments while streamlining the way the state disburses funds.

“This is what I did as a career for as an asset manager for a global fund,” Simpler said. “If there’s $8 billion that flows through, a one quarter of one percent improvement in the efficiency of collection and disbursement, that’s 40 million dollars. That’s not chump-change.”

Valenzuela takes a much more activist approach to the office. If elected treasurer, she would use the position to try to craft state financial policy. “[I] would begin to focus on routing out wasteful spending and lower, smaller government, lower taxes and less regulations, and that’s going to allow for a flow of prosperity to come back into the state.”

Abandoned property debate

Valenzuela also wants to reform the way the state collects abandoned property funds, one of the top revenue categories for the state budget. She describes the way Delaware handles abandoned property as “absolutely the worst in the nation.”

Currently, the state contracts with a firm to find and collect abandoned property revenue owed to the state from sources like dormant bank accounts, forgotten utility deposits and even unused gift cards.

“You could say that the third-largest revenue stream is based on stolen property of Delawareans and we need to get that back into the hands of Delawareans. Allow them to put that back into the economy,” Valenzuela said.

But Simpler strongly disagrees with that assessment and Valenzuela’s plan to use the treasurer’s office to change the system of abandoned property collection.

“She is deliberately misleading voters,” Simpler said. “The Treasurer has no power over abandoned property, and it is wrong to mislead voters and hope they don’t know better.”

Taking away the state’s abandoned property revenue would leave the state with a $500 million hole in the budget, with most of the money not being refunded to Delawareans, Simpler said. And while he admits the state is too dependent on abandoned property as a revenue source, “Weaning ourselves off that income will take thoughtful planning and a commitment to restructuring our finances.”

Republican voters will select their candidate on Tuesday. The winner will face Barney in November.—

Interviews with both Valenzuela and Simpler will be featured on WHYY’s First on Friday, Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m.

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