Bob Beatty: Governor should pick state treasurer based on new realities
With Jake LaTurner heading off to Washington, D.C., soon, Gov. Laura Kelly will be appointing a new Kansas state treasurer. No doubt she has a list in her office right now of fine, capable, upstanding people who have years of public service and money-management credentials on their resumes.
The governor might want to throw that list out and create a new one, because the person for the job should be a promoter first and foremost.
From the job title, you would think that the state treasurer is a financial mastermind, investing and manipulating the billions of dollars running through the state. Not exactly. The state treasurer sits on two committees — the KPERS Board of Trustees (one of nine members) and the Kansas Pooled Money Investment Board (one of five members) — that oversee the investment of state retirement and general fund monies.
The treasurer has a vote at these meetings, and then has time on his or her hands to do other things.
One of the things treasurers like to do is run for higher office. Since 1972, every single elected Kansas treasurer has gone on to run for another office. Joan Finney became governor, and the past three treasurers — LaTurner, Ron Estes and Lynn Jenkins — won election to the U.S. Congress. Tom Van Sickle, Tim Shallenburger and LaTurner didn’t even get through one term before dreaming of bigger things. LaTurner announced he was running for U.S. Senate a scant two months after being elected to his first term as treasurer.
But that’s OK, because the modern job of treasurer now demands a promoter rather than a money manager.
The treasurer can hire good people to do the money stuff, but as one of six officials elected statewide, only the treasurer can command the media spotlight needed to successfully promote several key programs administered by the office. These are the state’s program for unclaimed property and money, the Kansas 529 college savings program, and the treasurer’s high school scholarship program.
LaTurner understood the promotional role of the treasurer. He excelled at it and took it to a new level by featuring himself and his family in his office’s 529 promotional TV ads. Let me humbly state that I was wrong to be critical of those ads when they first appeared.
I didn’t understand then what I’ve come to see now, which is that the new role of the state treasurer requires a person who is not only willing to use the spotlight to promote the state’s programs but is also highly talented in doing so. To give you an example of my point, how many of you remember Ron Estes’ or Dennis Mckinney’s 529 TV ads? Total snoozeville.
LaTurner is the exception. Somewhat surprisingly, most politicians are not impressive promoters nor particularly good on TV, so Gov. Kelly should think outside the box when making her choice.
Look at people from the media business, like television newscasters and presenters, people who know how to connect through television and the modern mediums of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Look for someone who might raise a few eyebrows at first, but when their first 529 or unclaimed property TV ads start airing, will make us all see that the governor did in fact pick someone well qualified for the modern job of Kansas treasurer.
Bob Beatty is a political scientist in Topeka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.