PHOENIX - Oregon voters will hand significant power over debt and investment policy to a new steward when they cast their votes for treasurer next week.
Democrat Tobias Read, a state representative, will face Republican Jeff Gudman, a Lake Oswego city councilor, and Independent Party of Oregon candidate Chris Telfer in the Nov. 8 contest to replace departing Treasurer Ted Wheeler.
Wheeler was elected mayor of Portland earlier this year and will assume that office Jan. 1.
At stake for voters is which man or woman will be chief investment officer for the state's more than $89 billion portfolio and an extremely important voice in its debt management policy.
Read, a Beaverton resident with a decade-long tenure in the state House of Representatives, hopes history on his side; Democrats have held the treasurer's seat since 1992.
His campaign has focused on the priorities of maximizing investment returns, increasing transparency about how investment decisions are made, investing in infrastructure, and saving pension system money by reducing reliance on Wall Street service providers.
He has Wheeler's endorsement. In a statement to The Bond Buyer, Read said he wants to take a more "thoughtful" approach to bond issuance.
"This is one of the critical pieces of the job and we need to continue the state's prudent use of debt to invest in important projects," Read said. "I'm excited about the opportunity to have a more comprehensive and intentional approach to our bond issuance. We can work to improve the consistency of the types of projects we fund and develop a clear understanding of our long term priorities."
Gudman is running on his experience as a financial analysts and treasurer in the private sector and for USA Olympic Swimming. He has also spoken about the importance of financing infrastructure and schools.
Both Read and Gudman have discussed the possibility of issuing pension obligation bonds to shore up the public pension fund, which was only about 71% funded through 2015 according to a state estimate released earlier this year.
Telfer, a former state senator from Bend who now works as an accountant and serves on the Oregon Lottery Commission, has given a lot of attention to the pension problem.
Her website touts a plan to reform the system, including adjusting contribution rates and redirecting some of its investments to address affordable housing needs.
Telfer is against borrowing to support the pension system.
Former Oregon Treasurer Randall Edwards, a Democrat who has endorsed Read, told The Bond Buyer that the treasurer has considerable authority over investment decisions and significant legislative influence over debt management policy.
"You have a lot of credibility. Your staff has a lot of credibility," Edwards said, adding that reports and recommendations that the treasurer gives to the state legislature tend to be taken seriously by lawmakers.
The treasurer is a very important voice in Oregon in shaping policies," said Edwards.
Edwards said that he believed Read was best-equipped to do the job because of his experience in the legislature, something common to most previous treasurers despite Wheeler's lack of a legislative background.
Edwards said Telfer has a particularly tough path running as the Independent Party candidate, without the statewide infrastructure of the two major parties.
Her campaign is viewed seriously enough to win newspaper endorsements from the Oregonian in Portland, the Statesman Journal in Salem and the Bend Bulletin.
Progressive/Pacific Green candidate Chris Henry, a truck driver who is opposed to Wall Street involvement in public finance, is also on the ballot but has a much lower profile than the other candidates.