The Oregon treasurer's race pits an experienced state legislator against an experienced business leader, and we think the latter is just what's needed for the top financial office of the state.
The race features Ben Westlund, a Republican-turned-Democrat who served in the Senate from Bend, and Allen Alley, a Republican and founder of Pixelworks, a high tech semiconductor manufacturer.
Westlund considers the job more than just a public policy position, and he sees his tenure of 12 years in the Legislature as a plus. He says that enables him to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle and deal with the budget and money management issues.
Westlund's an advocate of a more stable tax structure in Oregon, meaning more stable funding for state budgets and the possibility of improved bond ratings. In an interview, he said he's not afraid to raise the specter of a sales tax to achieve that. Our response to that brave stand has to be "been there, done that" ... The voters have said time and time again that they won't approve the addition of a sales tax, and it's high time we stop wasting everyone's time on the issue.
Alley also wants to see more stability in our state budget, but not by adding taxes. He notes that states with sales taxes also have their ups and downs; in recessions, when people stop spending, sales-tax states start eyeing the income tax as the way to go.
Rather than add new taxes, Alley sees a better solultion in bolstering the state's reserves. He once kidded the governor that Oregon is run "like a lemonade stand."
"Why do we run the state with no cash?" he asks. Rather than the lemonade stand model, Alley favors using reserves much like an endowment fund that would stablilize the revenue stream and avoid the boom and bust cycles now so common in state operations.
As for the question of political experience, we're not convinced that legislative maneuvering is the key to success in the treasurer's job. If it is, Alley has also shown the ability to cross party lines and work in high government circles. Although a Republican, Alley was asked to serve in Gov. Ted Kulongoski's cabinet. He said he felt he was able to lend new perspectives and new ideas to that group of advisers as they grappled with important issues.
Indeed, Alley's work experience gives him unusual perspective to add to the state's government dialogue. He's an engineer with experience in aerospace and automotive industries, a high-tech entrepreneur and a community innovator. He sees great opportunities for the state in renewable energy and industries that take advantage of new technology. His private sector experience suggests he's the best candidate to recognize those opportunities and brainstorm ways to capitalize on them.
But more than anything, the treasurer's job requires someone to manage the state's money responsibly and with an eye to the future. We don't believe the focus should be legislative hob-nobbing, a prospect raised by some of Westlund's comments. Alley sees the job as being the chief executive officer of "the Bank of Oregon," and says he would work for the stockholders - us - to maximize our investments and minimize our losses. We believe Alley's business background, conservative approach and dedication to sustainable economy give him a better understanding of the state's balance sheet and make him the best candidate for state treasurer.