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Primary Conversations: Treasurer (D)

Pete Springer/OPB

Two short months ago Oregon’s treasurer, Ben Westlund, died of cancer. The governor appointed former Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler to replace him in the treasurer’s office until the next election. Now that time has come and Wheeler is facing competition in the Democratic primary from state senator Rick Metsger (D-Welches). The winner will face state senator Chris Telfer (R-Bend) in the general election.

The state treasurer is the state’s chief financial officer overseeing (among other things) the state’s investments, bond sales, and 529 college savings program.

The new treasurer will also have to steer the state through two tricky situations — one fiscal and one ethical. The fiscal one is that despite a healthy rebound from the 2008 stock market hemorrhage, the state’s Public Employee Retirement System is still in the red. (Although it’s actually performing better than most state systems.)

The ethical one has been stickier, and more prominent in this primary race. As first reported by The Oregonian in a series of articles, investment officers for the Treasury were often wined and dined (and golf coursed) in luxury courtesy of the private companies who manage millions of dollars of state money. In some cases, these officers were even reimbursed by the state for free meals. Ted Wheeler has announced new limits on perks at the agency, as well as a review of travel policies; Rick Metsger has responded with a more sweeping set of reforms.

Meanwhile, big-ticket (and big money) ideas keep coming: Richard Lariviere, the president of the University of Oregon, has proposed selling $1 billion in bonds to stabilize funding for the university.

What Treasury issues are you paying attention to? Are you watching your PERS and college savings statements? What questions do you have for the two Democrats who want to manage the state’s coffers?

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