Dollar Dance

Two Republicans Attempt To Waltz Their Way Into The State Treasurer's Office.

By Jim Nintzel

THERE PROBABLY ISN'T a more obscure statewide post than the Treasurer's Office. Most Arizonans would be hard-pressed to tell you the Treasurer's basic responsibilities: running a bank which handles the state's revenues, and managing state investment pools.

So Arizonans might be surprised to learn that, during the boom economy of the 1990s, the state's fixed-income investment pool has climbed from $2.4 billion to more than $6 billion. (About $3.5 billion of that is state money, while another $2.5 billion comes from other governmental jurisdictions who piggyback on the state's investments).

The upswing has come during the eight years Republican Tony West has held the Treasurer's Office. But term limits are forcing West out of office after eight years, so he's seeking a seat on the tumultuous Arizona Corporation Commission.

Currents Term limits are nothing new for the Treasurer's Office; apparently, Arizona's founding fathers didn't trust anyone to hold the office for too long, and limited the treasurer to one two-year term. From 1949 to 1959, Democrats J.W. Kelly and E.T. "Eddie" Williams Jr. got around that provision by trading the office back and forth every other term. In 1971, the term expanded to four years with an option for an additional consecutive term.

Seeking the open seat are two Republicans: state Sen. Carol Springer and former car dealer D.L. Culliver. (No Democrat filed to run for the office, so the September 8 GOP primary will likely decide the race.) And it's a particularly important decision this year, because voters in November may approve a referendum that allows up to 60 percent of that swelling tide of state cash to be invested in the stock market.

The 61-year-old Springer, who hails from Prescott, is facing her own term-limit deadline in the state Senate (which would force her out in 2000), so she's decided step down this year in pursuit of higher office. Her politics lean toward the fiscally conservative, Libertarian, small-government wing of the GOP. Springer's area of expertise is the state budget. As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she has led a charge to eliminate what she calls "smoke-and-mirror" budget tactics. One of her priorities was beginning the budgeting process earlier in the legislative session so lawmakers wouldn't trade votes in exchange for budget deals.

"I thought we could eliminate a lot of pork-barrel spending if we did the budget in the middle rather than the end," she says, noting that the sessions have grown much shorter since. Springer also boasts that she eliminated $200 million worth of bookkeeping tricks which allowed departments to roll debt into future fiscal years.

One former Capitol lobbyist who disagreed with Springer on environmental and healthcare matters still respects her expertise with the state budget, saying, "She's as good as they get when it comes to making government follow its own rules. 'She won't screw with your money' should probably be her slogan." A caveat soon follows: "But then, she's a real-estate broker."

HER OPPONENT, meanwhile, is a former car dealer. The 39-year-old Culliver is taking his first stab at public office. Culliver's family has been in the car biz for three generations. His grandfather started Culliver Motor Co. in southern Arizona. Over time, the family business grew to a major dealership in Maricopa County, which Culliver sold to a national chain last year.

"When I retired from the car business last year, I wanted to do something that would really be of community service--move from success to significance," Culliver says.

As treasurer, Culliver promises not only to manage the responsibilities of the office, but to use it as a bully pulpit to attract business to the state. And to demonstrate his vitality, Culliver is also bicycling hundreds of miles on the campaign trail, promising to hold town halls, intercede in overzealous federal enforcement of the Endangered Species Act and impart "family values."

"I want to know what it is people want me to stand up for," Culliver says. "I believe in lower taxes, less government, less waste in government and family values, and I intend to stand up for those issues to really work hard for folks."

Ultimately, the race comes down to a question of experience--and what kind of experience Republican voters will value in a treasurer. Springer says her experience in handling public dollars makes her the right choice.

"You need somebody in the office who has some sort of record of accountability, particularly with taxpayer dollars," Springer says.

Culliver likewise says he's got the experience for the job: "The job is two things: managing people and managing large sums of money. I'm the only candidate in the race with experience doing both those things."

Both candidates support the November ballot proposition to allow the state investment pools, which are now locked into safe and liquid securities, to be invested in the stock market.

At a recent GOP luncheon in Phoenix, Culliver was asked if he had originally weighed a race for governor. During the campaign, he downplays his future ambitions.

"I have no plans to anything right now. I want to run for state treasurer and work very hard at this. This has been a very difficult thing for me and I've learned a lot. If something came up in the future, of course we'd look at like we did all the other options before. We're always going to keep our eyes open, but right now I want to run for state treasurer."

Culliver boasts he may well spend more on the race than he'll make in office, but denies he's buying the race.

"In my opinion, it's impossible in the State of Arizona to buy anything," he says. "We only get our money for two sources right now. We get our money from our own bank account and from families in Arizona; whereas my opponent has access to and has gotten a great deal of her money from special-interest groups and political action committees. I don't have any access to that, so for us, the money just levels the playing field."

But as of May 31, the period covered by the most recent campaign finance reports, the campaigns were barely in same ballpark, much less a level field. Culliver had more than $169,000, while Springer had raised less than $33,000. She says with a laugh that fundraising is going "badly."

"The Treasurer's Office is not a policy-making office, and we can't have fundraising during the session, so it's been very difficult," she says. "But I don't consider that a negative. I figure you do what you can and hope you get your message out." TW

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