Kennedy keen to compare qualifications with Stapleton in treasurer race

Democratic State Treasurer Cary Kennedy landed the endorsement of the Denver Post Tuesday for the “steady hand” she has shown in investing Colorado tax revenues and generating positive returns over the last two years– no small feat given the avalanche of lost fortunes brought by the global finance meltdown and major international recession.

The Post talked with Kennedy and her Republican opponent Walker Stapleton before making the endorsement. The discussions held in the Post editorial offices seem to mirror a debate the two candidates engaged in last week in Colorado Springs.

Stapleton touts himself as a star private-sector investor. It’s difficult to determine the validity of that assertion. At the debate, Stapleton referred repeatedly to the fact that he has been a chief executive and chief financial officer, but he is a member of the vastly wealthy and politically connected Stapleton-Bush clan, and his professional life consists mainly of work performed for his family in its various real estate ventures.

Stapleton and his extended family have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his run for treasurer and he makes no bones that he has political ambitions that go beyond this race, which comes as little surprise. His great grandfather was the well-known mayor of Denver. His second cousin is the former president George H Bush. More of his cousins include former president George W Bush as well as Neil Bush, who headed the infamously failed Denver-based Silverado Savings & Loan in the 1980s, which, in a sort of preview of the TARP bailouts, cost taxpayers $1 billion after serving as a front company for Neil and fellow investors Bill Walters and Ken Good.

Stapleton stacks his experience in the private sector against Kennedy’s experience in government. He argued repeatedly at the debate last week that she was untrained for her job and that she lacked qualifications. He conceded at the debate and to the Denver Post that Kennedy has done a good job “maintaining the status quo” in investing taxpayer money. He says he would do more.

Kennedy, though, is proud to stand on her experience in government, her investment record as treasurer and her qualifications for the job.

“The status quo? That’s not true,” she told the Colorado Independent. “In 2007, before the downturn, I moved the state into safer investments,” she says. “The state had $2 billion invested with one bank and it had been that way for several years. That money was all placed with Morgan Stanley. That wasn’t acceptable to me.

“[Colorado] has made it through the worst downturn in 60 years. We have been fiscally responsible. We have balanced the budget and stayed out of the Wall Street mess. I limited the state’s exposure to derivatives and structured investments and securities lending,” she said, listing those areas rife with the “exotic” investments the private sector for years pushed on doomed investors that included state treasurers across the country.

Kennedy’s wariness translated to hundreds of millions for the state in investment returns over the last four years, including 3 percent and 2.4 percent gains over the last two years when major losses were the norm.

Kennedy also notes that she has a masters degree in public finance from Columbia University and that she has been working on state budgets and public financing for 16 years.

In her words and actions, Kennedy supports as a priority increased spending on Colorado’s public schools. She pointed out that Colorado ranks among the lowest of the states in spending on education. She supported Amendment 23, which upped funding for K-12 education, and helped write Referendum C, the bipartisan so-called TABOR timeout approved by voters that allowed the state to keep tax revenues beyond limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Even as lawmakers have struggled these past years to cut hundreds of millions from the state budget, Stapleton says he would work as treasurer to “get lawmakers under control” and stop the “out of control spending.”

[Images from the Colorado Springs debate by Eliot Kersgaard ]

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