Quick, name the state treasurer.
Many Utahns probably don't know that Republican Ed Alter will have served in the elected office for 28 years when his final term ends in January if they even realize the state has a treasurer.
But thanks to this year's heated race for the GOP nomination for treasurer, the post is becoming harder to overlook.
Candidate Richard Ellis, the current chief deputy state treasurer, is accusing his primary opponent, Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, of trying to bribe him to leave the race by offering to let him keep his job at a much higher salary. Walker denies the allegations.
An attempt by Ellis to force Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, the state's chief election officer, to decide before Tuesday's election whether the allegations should be referred to the Attorney General's Office, ended up before the Utah Supreme Court.
The court denied Ellis' request shortly after hearing arguments in the case, so Ellis has taken his allegations directly to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Walker is preparing his own elections complaint against Ellis, according to his campaign manager, Steve Hunter.
Both candidates, however, say there's more for voters to consider than the controversy.
Ellis, 48, stresses his years of experience in government finance, including overseeing the budget for two Republican governors, Olene Walker and Jon Huntsman Jr., after six years as chief deputy state treasurer. He returned to the No. 2 spot in the office in 2006.
A private sector job in investment banking early on in his career wasn't a good fit with his personality, Ellis said.
"It was more of a sales job, wining and dining customers," he said. "I found out that wasn't me."
He's also uncomfortable with the politics surrounding his government positions.
"I find that frustrating. By nature, I'm not political," Ellis said, describing his role as an overseer of government finances as laying out options for policymakers. "I try to take politics out of it, although politics always comes into play."
Walker, 32, emphasizes his private sector experience, especially what he learned as a salesman for Zions Bank. In that position, he was responsible for getting local governments to invest in the bank's financial products rather than the state treasurer's fund.
"I come from the private sector, where you're judged on exactly what you do," Walker said.
He said he earned enough money at the bank through a combination of salary and commissions that he was able to resign in March to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest and focus full-time on running for office.
"I think people need to understand I'm not a dummy. I think I have a pretty good idea about how things work," Walker said. "Everybody wants to say, 'He was just a salesman.' That's a little bit insulting. Sales are what makes the world go 'round.'
But so do politics. Over the years, Ellis has upset some in his party by cautioning lawmakers that proposals, such as spending caps and earmarking revenues for transportation projects, could negatively affect Utah's AAA bond rating and increase the cost of borrowing money.
Walker, who was elected to the Legislature in 2004, said he saw an opportunity to combine politics and finance when Alter announced last year he was retiring at the end of his term and endorsing Ellis for the job.
"I knew of the displeasure with Ellis," Walker said. "To me, he's done things that run contrary to what Republicans want."
That surfaced at the state Republican Party convention in May, when Walker nearly eliminated Ellis from the race by falling just short of the 60 percent vote threshold for avoiding a primary.
Ellis said he stands by the positions he took and doesn't see himself as less of a Republican. The GOP encompasses a range of beliefs, he said, from conservative to more liberal.
"I probably fall in the middle of that. When it comes to finances, I'm more conservative," Ellis said. "People need to make their decision whether this job should be political. ... We have lots of politicians."
Walker, though, said the treasurer needs to get more involved in the political process and spend more time with lawmakers.
"I think the treasurer's office has been completely hands-off," he said. "This is not a sit-on-your laurels, sit-on-your hands job. It has been."
Walker said if he's elected, he won't stay in office longer than three terms. "The fact that Ed Alter was there for 28 years, I think, is ridiculous," Walker said, calling Ellis "a lifelong bureaucrat."
And, Walker said, he would empanel a group of financial experts from the private sector to advise him on running the office. He said the treasurer's experience is not as important as having "fresh eyes" to find new efficiencies in state finances.
Ellis said most voters don't understand that the office is responsible for investing billions of state and local taxpayer dollars, as well as issuing billions more in bonds for roads and other government projects.
E-mail: [email protected]