The state treasurer campaign is usually a sleepy affair. Longtime incumbent Ed Alter is retiring, and the GOP nomination race is heating up between state legislator Mark Walker (who received almost 60 percent of the delegate vote at the state convention) and current Deputy Treasurer Richard Ellis. Accusations of resume padding, mudslinging and job offers are surfacing. The intraparty battle is raising political and public policy questions:

Notwithstanding the accusations, what is happening with this controversial primary election?

Pignanelli: The race is a bizarre microcosm of the recent contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ellis (the Hillary Clinton of this analogy) is a seasoned veteran of state government who, many assumed, was the natural heir to Alter. But along comes the charismatic legislator Walker, whose resume may be shorter but has a wonderful personality and captures the imagination of his party (just like Barack Obama). Indeed, Walker has garnered endorsements from many state officials, including Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and legislative leadership. As with national Democrat leaders, local Republicans are weary of a dynasty in the treasurer's office and believe Walker will provide fresh air.

Alter was elected during the Carter administration, the issue burdening Ellis despite his qualifications. Thus "Friends of Alter" (much like "Friends of Bill") are stirring it up against Walker. (My analogy lacks a Jeremiah Wright but remains fun to watch.)

Webb: Both are good men, good candidates, and either one would make a fine state treasurer.

Is there a clear front-runner, and who is likely to win?

Pignanelli: Walker performed well at the convention and has exceeded Ellis in raising money. But the treasurer's race itself will not drive voters to the polls for the primary election. Other primary elections are scattered legislative races and the 3rd Congressional District. Thus, the treasurer candidates have a multifaceted challenge. They need to appeal to the various political flavors voting in the congressional contest while attracting attention in the rest of the state. You can expect more antics in the newspapers as the candidates strive to receive free media. Ellis may have the deep background, but Walker has the attractive young Republican family and sunny disposition. His momentum is likely to remain through the primary to then face Democrat Dick Clark (a retired banker).

Webb: Most voters won't know much about either candidate and will go with whoever seems familiar and safe. The winner will be the one who is able to communicate best, mostly through direct mail, to the small number of people who will actually vote in the GOP primary election.

Because managing public money is so important, should the treasurer be appointed by the governor, thereby avoiding the whims of politics?

Pignanelli: Serious queries regarding need and usefulness have plagued the Treasurers Office for decades. The Little Hoover Commission under Gov. Calvin Rampton recommended eliminating the office. Various states have moved treasurer responsibilities from elected to appointed positions. My lovely bride, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, as the 1996 Democratic nominee for the position, promised to abolish the office if elected. A treasurer official (regardless of elected or appointed) utilizes the good advice of professionals in investing and maneuvering state money. Having an election is a wasteful duplication while imposing the risk of political grandstanding to money management. True fiscal conservatives are encouraged to support the Democrat legacy of eradicating this wasteful expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

Webb: I have long advocated moving the treasurer into a cabinet position appointed by the governor. But let's not stop there. The state auditor and attorney general should also be appointed by the governor, rather than elected. Good conservatives and even silly liberals should want Utah to follow the model of the U.S. Constitution.

The governor should be in charge of, and held accountable for, the executive branch, rather than have executive authority dispersed among four different elective positions. Separation of powers and check and balances are important principles that refer to power divided among executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. We don't need to further divide power within the executive branch itself. We would think it illogical to elect the U.S. attorney general or Treasury secretary.

Utah's Constitution, while dramatically improved over the years, still includes provisions that ought to be changed. When I first started writing about politics, the office of secretary of state (since abolished and replaced with lieutenant governor) was a separately elected office, providing plenty of opportunity for mischief when voters selected a governor and secretary of state from different parties.

Because Utah's current executive branch offices are all held by Republicans, and they all get along reasonably well (at least on the surface), we haven't seen any public fights among them. But we old-timers remember some monumental governor/AG battles in year's past, to the point the governor hired outside counsel on some issues because he didn't trust the AG.

Utah is actually in better shape than many states where executive authority is even more divided. In Texas, for example, the elected agriculture commissioner has a great deal of power.

Top state offices ought to be cabinet positions with a governor's administration, rather than elected offices where political fiefdoms are built.


Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].