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Treasurer’s race hinges on incumbent

Much of the uncertainty surrounding the race to become the next state treasurer hinges on whether Dean Martin will challenge Gov. Jan Brewer for her office or continue serving as the fourth-ranking state executive.

Even if Martin has decided to run against Brewer, he can’t announce it anyway. If he does before January, he would have to resign as treasurer.

Martin’s campaign Web site – votedeanmartin.com – has recently been updated with a countdown clock. The message is: “It’s coming soon.”

Below that is a ticker that shows the days, hours, minutes and seconds slipping away. But what’s “coming soon” remains unclear.

In the meantime, two state senators await his decision. And there might be more potential candidates laying low.

Sen. Jim Waring, a Republican from Phoenix, and Sen. Thayer Verschoor, a Republican from Gilbert, are considering running for state treasurer.

Both have said they would avoid the race if Martin decides to seek re- election.

On the other side of the political aisle, Democrats have put full force behind Andrei Cherny, a former Arizona assistant attorney general under Terry Goddard and a former White House aide in the Clinton administration.

Cherny opened a committee early in February and announced his bid for the office two months later. Cherny is hoping to take advantage of his head start and the indecision among Republicans.

If he faces Verschoor or Waring, Cherny will be up against a Republican with eight years of experience in the Legislature and the name recognition that goes along it.

Martin, of course, has the advantage of the incumbency – and of sharing a name with a famous singer and actor. On his Web site, Martin’s slogan is “Familiar Name, New Voice.”

Cherny has proposed a more aggressive Treasurer’s Office, not only in terms of exploring other areas to invest the state’s money but also in pushing for certain economic policies.

Cherny views the treasurer as the state’s chief economic officer.

Cherny claims on his Web site that he wants to “turn the economy around,” to make Arizona the “solar state,” and to put into action an “economic strategy for rural Arizona.” He talks of investing in Main Street and of taking a portion of the state’s Wall Street investments and putting it “back here at home in Arizona.”

Cherny said it the job of the treasurer to bring ideas to the Legislature about what needs to be done economically, in the same way that it’s the job of the attorney general to put forward ideas on cyber crime or immigration.

“I can’t predict what the smart investments are going to be a year- plus from now,” he said “But I have said that we as a state need to be looking at how we can provide more incentives for high-tech companies, for bio-tech and especially for companies that are doing work in areas like wind and solar.”

Cherny said Martin has invested in banks and oil companies on Wall Street, and that Arizona can also make the same kinds of investments in “well-established companies that will create jobs here in Arizona” as long as those investments are safe, secure, and get the best possible rate of return.

He authored the book, “The Next Deal: The Future of Public Life in the Information Age.” He also founded the public policy journal Democracy.

The sniping has already begun – between Martin and Cherny.

Martin said Cherny’s plans for investing in local solar energy companies wouldn’t be legal or constitutional.

Martin said the Treasurer’s Office oversees three investment pools: one for state funds, one for local governments and one for the state land trust. By law, money from the local and state investment pools is invested in bonds. The state land trust money can be invested in both stocks and bonds.

Arizona law prohibits the treasurer from investing that money in stocks, Martin said.

“That’s not what the Treasurer’s Office can legally do,” Martin said. “That may make for a nice sound bite, but it doesn’t actually work. It’s not legal, actually, or constitutional.”

Martin said he would oppose Cherny’s plan on multiple grounds.

Speculative investing, he said, is a dangerous way to use the state’s money. For example, the Arizona State Retirement System lost a great deal of value in the 1990s after investing heavily in tech stocks.

“I’m not saying that Andrei is a problem, but we have had problems in the past with treasurers that have not been exactly forthright,” Martin said. “You need to make sure that whatever we’re doing is not out there designed to pick winners and losers or become a large player.”

Martin was elected treasurer in 2006 following six years in the Senate, where he served as chairman of the Finance Committee.

Verschoor, who was stripped of his position as Senate pro tem earlier this year, announced in September that he is exploring a run for treasurer. He faces term limits in 2010.

Verschoor said he is qualified for the job given his experience in the Legislature and as a business owner.

“I think people want someone in there who is conservative, who is not going take and use the Treasurer’s Office for some hidden agenda to push more regulation, and, you know, some of the more risky areas of financing,” he said.

Verschoor joined the Senate in 2003. He became Senate majority leader in 2007, a position he held for two years.

He was appointed as the Senate president pro tempore this session, but he was replaced after the session ended. Then, in August, Senate President Bob Burns appointed him to chair the Arizona Budget Commission, a new panel that will be looking at streamlining state agencies and cutting spending.

Verschoor overcame a tough primary challenge from then-Rep. Eddie Farnsworth when he won re-election to his Senate seat in 2008.

Waring isn’t sure if he event wants to run for treasurer. In fact, he said he is leaning against it. He said he’ll likely make a decision after January, and it will depend on Martin’s plans.

“He has got a decision to make obviously sometime, I would guess, in early January,” Waring said.

Waring, a Phoenix Republican, has opened an exploratory committee for treasurer. He had opened one to run for the House, but he closed it out Dec. 10, the day he opened his treasurer committee. Waring cannot seek re-election to the Senate next year because of term-limits.

There are several factors to consider before deciding to campaign for a statewide office, Waring said. Among them is the fact that he was married recently.

“It’s not just my decision anymore,” he said. “We have to figure out what’s best for us and our family.”
But pay is a factor as well. A state lawmaker gets $24,000, excluding pier diem and transportation allowance. The treasurer is paid $70,000 a year.

Waring said the treasurer’s salary is “not dramatically more” than that of a state lawmaker.
Waring holds a doctorate in public administration and by the time his term ends, he would have spent eight years looking at the state’s budget up close, what he calls an “intensive tautology” on the budget.

Waring, a former aide of U.S. Sen. John McCain, was first elected to the Senate in 2002. In addition, he has taught budget classes at the Arizona State University.

- Reporter Jeremy Duda contributed to this article.

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