In the race for Arkansas Treasurer, the key priority repeated by the candidates is restoring credibility to the office after the corruption conviction of former Treasurer Martha Shoffner. The three vying for the office spoke with KUAR News in advance of next month's election.
Democrat Karen Garcia touts her background.
"I am the professional accountant, not the professional politician in this race. I have 30 years of experience. I have personally been responsible for multi-million and billion dollar budgets," Garcia said.
Most of that time was spent working for the forestry company Weyerhaeuser, where Garcia says she implemented financial systems and trained staff. She also served as treasurer for the Democratic Party of Arkansas.
Republican candidate Dennis Milligan is serving his second term as Saline County Circuit Clerk, where he oversaw work to place public records on the internet and implement a jury notification system. He previously served as chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas and has owned or co-owned several businesses.
"I’ve always been known as a person that can go in and clean up an office. I’ve had the opportunity to do that in several instances in my public life. This is an office that definitely needs that and we want to return that office from being the worst state Treasurer’s office in the country to being the very best," Milligan said.
Libertarian Chris Hayes touts being an outsider. He previously made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2012.
"There’s not enough participation of the individuals that have not been in politics all their life instead of the career politician. But the treasurer’s race, this is more of a non-partisan race in my opinion, although we all have the label either Republican, Libertarian or Democrat."
Garcia and Milligan both have presented plans to provide ethical leadership in the office. During Shoffner’s federal trial, prosecutors said she accepted $36,000 in cash payments from one bond broker, then steered a disproportionate amount state investments to his firm. Garcia says if elected, she would implement a business code of ethics.
"Neither the treasurer, nor any employee in the treasurer’s office will accept any gifts from anyone doing business with the treasurer’s office. There will be no backroom deals, no cronyism and full transparency of all transactions," Garcia says.
Milligan says he too would have a no gifts policy. Milligan also says he would have a blind bidding process for handling state investments.
"It’s a software program that we can implement and we on our side, when I’m the state treasurer, would only see a number," Milligan said. "(So if) number two for example, is the highest bidder and then only after all that’s documented would it be revealed to us that XYZ bank has offered the highest interest return."
Like other races, dueling ethics complaints have been filed against both major party candidates.
Garcia received a letter of caution from the Arkansas Ethics Commission, for violating state law by reporting the wrong amount on a campaign finance report and failing to include the address of a contributor.
"She touts herself as being a professional CPA, and yet she can’t fill out the simplest of ethics contribution expenditure reports, along with taking money from a 501-3c, which is absolutely against the law. It’s a non-profit, non-partisan and she heads that particular organization up as its president," Garcia said.
While Garcia acknowledges the mistakes, she says the filing was pure politics.
"The ethics complaint against me was filed by one of Mr. Milligan’s staunchest supporters. The reason I know that is because he wrote a letter with the complaint saying that he was a supporter of Mr. Milligan," Garcia responded.
She says that when Milligan took over the Saline County Circuit Clerk’s office he improperly fired several employees. Some filed lawsuits, with one leading to a settlement for more than 90-thousand dollars. Garcia also notes an allegation by Milligan’s primary opponent, Representative Duncan Baird, who said Milligan tried to get him to drop out of the race by threatening to release an embarrassing video.
Libertarian Chris Hayes says all the nasty campaigning is yet another reason to vote for someone outside of the two major parities.
"The treasurer’s race, if it wasn’t for the fact that Martha Shoffner had caused so much problems, people probably wouldn’t even be paying much attention to this race, quite frankly. But I think any of us candidates are qualified according to the state of Arkansas we meet the qualification," Hayes said.
The treasurer’s office has a budget of nearly $5 million dollars and handles investments for the state totaling $2.7 billion dollars.