In what appears to be an historic first, the Oregonian has endorsed a candidate for statewide office who is not a Democrat or Republican. The well-deserved Endorsement goes to Chris Telfer, the nominee of the Independent Party of Oregon. The Oregonian says:
As statewide offices go, the treasurer's race rarely commands much attention. That's unfortunate, because not only does the treasurer fill the critical role of managing the state's $90 billion investment portfolio, but this year's race offers three strong candidates whose backgrounds and ideas deserve greater scrutiny.
The race includes Democratic legislator Tobias Read, Republican and Lake Oswego City Councilman Jeff Gudman and Independent Chris Telfer, a certified public accountant and former state senator. Oregonians should break with the two-party tradition and vote for Telfer, whose accounting and legislative background, willingness to tackle thorny issues and bloodhound's nose for financial discrepancy will best serve the state.
The treasurer's duties include managing the state's investment portfolio, including the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System fund; issuing state bonds and providing banking services for state and local governmental agencies. The treasury department also administers the state's college savings plan and is rolling out a new state-run retirement savings plan for workers whose employers don't offer such a program. The treasurer also serves as the sole elected member to the Oregon Investment Council, which decides how to invest Oregon's portfolio.
First and foremost, an effective treasurer needs a strong understanding of financial management and investment principles and a demonstrated ability to analyze risks and consequences. Both Telfer and Gudman, who is a private investor and has served as treasurer of the Emanuel Medical Center Foundation and other entities, bring that expertise and fluency, and both are well-qualified to lead the treasury. Read, who has far outraised both of them in campaign contributions, unfortunately, doesn't demonstrate the same ease that comes from having such a background.
Between Gudman and Telfer, however, Telfer's added legislative experience gives her the edge. Telfer, who until last year was a registered Republican, was one of the four-legislators who led the bipartisan effort to successfully redraw legislative district boundaries in 2011. She and a fellow legislator also called out flawed analysis and assumptions in the financing plan for the once-planned Columbia River Crossing a few months before current Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler came out with similar criticisms.
She also brings a sense of urgency to a role that, she said, has been too much of a figurehead as opposed to a true chief financial officer for the state. The pension system's unfunded liability, now at $22 billion, is a "crisis," she said, and needs to be treated as such.
She was the only one of the three candidates to oppose an idea to restructure the investments division and bring in-house some of the management that's contracted out to Wall Street firms. Telfer is unconvinced that the proposal, which has failed to get legislative backing three times, would bring the touted benefits of big savings or better returns. Hiring investment managers in-house will require offering competitive salaries, she noted. Plus, she said, it's far from certain that Oregon managers would do a better job than the firms currently handling the work.
Rather, she is pushing for discussion of a list of several proposals that Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, and Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, have identified as well as for convening the affected parties to the table to broker.
The treasurer certainly cannot act alone. But the treasurer can and should sound the alarm and keep up the pressure to address the crisis, especially when those who should be leading the charge, such as the governor, are hanging back. And while Gudman shares the same urgency about acting on PERS, Read disputes that it's a crisis, defining it instead as a "problem." Considering that public employers are looking at a bill increased by hundreds of millions of dollars next year to go to PERS contributions and away from education and health care, leaders should recognize the shortfall as the crisis it is.
Telfer offers other ideas that deserve vetting, such as helping marijuana businesses — turned away from cautious banks — to adopt a PayPal-type system that supports digital transactions. She also aims to develop a low-risk, short-term lending program that uses a small portion of the PERS portfolio for down payments to those who have already qualified for mortgages. While any of these ideas face numerous hurdles, they highlight her goal to act as a problem-solver who looks for ways to help Oregonians and maximize portfolio returns.
It won't be an easy path for Telfer, who represents a party that only achieved major-party status last year. But Oregon voters would do well to consider her past achievements, experience and willingness to tackle entrenched problems, and vote for her as the state's next treasurer.
– The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board