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Three Republicans face off in primary for treasurer

Three Republicans who oppose tying environmental standards to investments in businesses are competing against each other in the primary election for state treasurer on Aug. 2.

Three Republicans who oppose tying environmental standards to investments in businesses are competing against each other in the primary election for state treasurer next week.

The winner of the GOP primary August 2 will face Democratic State Sen. Martín J. Quezada in the general election in November.

GOP incumbent Kimberly Yee is regarded as a favorite to retain her role. She served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2011-2013, the Arizona Senate from 2013 to 2019, and was Senate majority leader from 2017-2019. Yee is also the first Asian American woman to win statewide office in Arizona.

State Treasurer of Arizona Kimberly Yee

The incumbent was elected treasurer in 2019. Yee announced her intention to run for governor last year but dropped out of the race in January after struggling to gain traction in a crowded GOP field. Now that she has re-entered the race for her current seat, Yee said that she aims to improve upon the accomplishments of her first term – including an increase of the state’s assets under her management from $15.4 billion to $29.9 billion as of May 31.

She used her office to create a Financial Literacy Task Force, which invites members from financial institutions across the state to promote new policies which they believe will benefit financial literacy in Arizona. In 2019, Yee also supported a bill that now requires school districts to teach one semester of financial education to students before they graduate high school.

If re-elected, Yee said that her primary focus would be to expand upon the Task Force and fight back against the Biden administration’s policy of encouraging financial institutions not to finance companies in coal, gas or oil that do not meet their environmental standards.

“What’s happening there is we are seeing that the lack of alternatives in the energy space is creating higher prices that consumers see every day in Arizona at the pump. And that is clearly affecting everyday Arizonans,” Yee said. “And so, we are asking them simply to push back against what I feel is an overreach of federal policy upon our state.”

Competing with Yee for the Republican nomination is Rep. Jeff Weninger – who has served in the Arizona House of Representatives since 2015. He previously served on the Chandler City Council from 2007-2015 and owns a small chain of Arizona restaurants called Dilly’s Deli.

State Rep. Jeff Weninger, R-Chandler

He touts his record of having shared the highest percentage of bills successfully signed into law this past session with just one other House Republican – a mark of 80%. If elected, Weninger said he would sometimes use his governing experience and connections to lobby for policies that would allow for the two to work in lockstep. He also mentioned that he will honor legislative decisions with which he doesn’t agree.

“There are certain issues that are going to come up. And they go through the legislative process, which is another reason I’ve said that a treasurer should be involved in the Legislature and talking occasionally,” Weninger said. “But these are things that affect that Treasurer’s Office directly so of course you should be involved. There are certain policies that I think it is appropriate to take a policy stance.”

Similar to Yee, Weninger opposes the idea that environmental standards should be taken into account when determining whether to invest in a company. He criticized the merit of “ESG” scores, which are the measures of a company’s exposure to long-term environmental, social and governance risks. The lawmaker described these scores as “arbitrary” and “akin to the green, new deal”.

Weninger indicated that, although he would generally not consider a company’s political behavior when deciding whether to invest, there are some stances that he couldn’t accept. This past session, Weninger supported a bill that mandated that the state end investments that boycott Israel. He also indicated his intention to terminate a contract with Bank of America because of a 2018 decision where the bank said it wouldn’t loan money to companies that produce military-style weapons for civilians.

“Essentially, by virtue of giving liquidity and money and allowing them to profit off of the same Arizona taxpayers, is also contributing to more money diminishing their own Second Amendment rights,” Weninger said.

Rounding out the GOP field is Bob Lettieri, an accountant and career financial executive who served as a CFO for multiple Arizona companies for over 20 years and served twice as treasurer of the Arizona Republican Party in 2017 and 2019. Lettieri has publicly stated he is not convinced that President Biden’s 2020 victory in Arizona was legitimate and is skeptical that Arizona’s midterm elections will be free and fair.

Bob Lettieri

While Lettieri agrees that environmental standards shouldn’t factor into investment decisions, he doesn’t believe that political behavior should either. He pushed back on Weninger’s stance that Arizona shouldn’t invest in companies that boycott Israel. And Weninger promised that, if elected, he would focus on pursuing investments that pay high dividends.

Lettieri also criticized Yee for taking credit for growth in funds for which he said she is not wholly responsible. While the current treasurer prefers to delegate tasks to those in her administration, Lettieri said that he believes the office of the treasurer is the office of a technocrat, and not that of a lobbyist, policymaker or administrator.

“Just based on the amount of time I’ve spent reviewing the revised statutes, the centerpiece is investing the money that comes into the treasury. It just circles that point over and over again,” Lettieri said. “It does give you some guidelines. Guidelines for investing. Guidelines for institutions that you work with. So, the centerpiece is investing and safeguarding the securities (of those investments).”

Whichever Republican advances from the primary will face four-term Democratic State Sen. Martín J. Quezada in November. Quezada has a background as an attorney and owns a law firm in Phoenix. He also served in the Arizona House of Representatives from 2012-2015 after being appointed by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Quezada said that he believes his lack of competition for the Democratic primary is a vote of confidence on behalf of his party.

“It looked like some other people might have been interested in running, but they kind of backed off once they saw that I was running,” he said.

While the legislator admitted that he would sometimes lobby for policies if elected, he defined the primary responsibilities of the treasurer in three categories: working as the state’s chief banker, chief investment officer and chief financial officer. Quezada claimed that CFO is where the office has been lacking the most because previous treasurers haven’t advocated for good use of taxpayer money and policy proposals that are going to improve the state’s financial stability and economy.

Sen. Martín J. Quezada, D-Glendale

Quezada said that he would rectify this by keeping politics out of any financial decisions that he makes. Contrary to his Republican opponents, he acknowledged ESGs as legitimate measures but reaffirmed that protecting the state’s economy was his foremost priority. He also cited repercussions from Covid, as well as oil and gas companies and energy sanctions from the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the primary causes of today’s inflation crises.

“The treasurer should be educating the public as part of its financial literacy efforts about those policy issues,” Quezada said. “About the impact of a pandemic, on our economy, about the impact of what’s happening in Ukraine, and about the impact of executive oil companies, profit margins and how that is having an impact on gas prices.”

 

 

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