BATON ROUGE, La. — Pssst. Have you heard? There’s a statewide election happening this fall in Louisiana, to fill the state treasurer’s job.
It’s not hard to miss it, since there’s little advertising from candidates so far and the open seat is the only statewide job up for grabs in an off-election year. Plus, it’s been 17 years since the position for Louisiana’s top money manager and investment official was vacant.
John Kennedy held the treasurer’s post for more than four terms with high approval ratings until he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He moved to the Washington job earlier this year.
Now, six contenders are vying for the treasurer’s seat on the Oct. 14 ballot, in a special fall election. Turnout is predicted to be dismal.
While most candidates kick off their campaigns by introducing themselves to voters, the wannabe treasurers have another bit of public education to do first: They need to tell people a statewide election is happening.
“When I go speak to a group or an organization, I usually ask that question: ‘How many of you know that there is a treasurer’s race?’ And a lot of people say, ‘Huh? There’s a treasurer’s race?'” said Republican candidate Angele Davis, a Baton Rouge business consultant who was a state budget administrator for Govs. Mike Foster and Bobby Jindal.
Louisiana voters have seen three years of hotly contested races for statewide jobs, including U.S. Senate competitions in 2014 and 2016 and the governor’s race in 2015.
“We’re probably having a lot of burnout,” said Republican treasurer candidate Neil Riser, a state senator, funeral home owner and bank board member from Caldwell Parish.
Louisiana’s treasurer is the state banker, investing, disbursing and managing the state’s money and its savings accounts. The treasurer chairs the Bond Commission, which oversees state borrowing and debt levels. Ron Henson, Kennedy’s top assistant, has been working as interim treasurer until someone is elected.
Though he’s reported little fundraising so far, New Orleans area lawyer Derrick Edwards seems nearly assured a spot in the Nov. 18 runoff because he’s the only Democrat running for treasurer. Polls have shown him leading the pack. He’s running on a theme of transparency in state spending and cutting wasteful government.
The three main GOP contenders appear to be competing for the second runoff spot. They include Davis, Riser and former state Rep. John Schroder, a businessman and ex-law enforcement officer from St. Tammany Parish.
All three Republicans consider themselves fiscal conservatives. All are running on their business backgrounds, their experience with state financial issues and their willingness to follow in Kennedy’s path — to use the treasurer’s office as a watchdog for state government, identifying misspending and financial mismanagement.
“I think people understand the job as John Kennedy has laid it out there,” Schroder said. “They don’t really totally understand what the treasurer does. They just want honesty and someone who’s going to stand up for them.”
Riser talks of knowing “the ups and downs of the business cycle” in his funeral home business, of his votes against state budgets he believed spent too much and of his service on the Bond Commission that the treasurer chairs.
“I do have a working knowledge of the budget, and I have a working relationship with legislators,” Riser said.
Davis stresses she’s never before run for elected office, while highlighting her background in public finance for the Foster and Jindal administrations and Louisiana’s credit rating upgrades during that time.
“I also talk a lot about how I will work with our leadership on innovative ways to reform our fiscal outlook without raising taxes on our middle class families. That resonates,” Davis said.
During his legislative tenure, Schroder became a high-profile critic of state spending levels and pushed for increased budget transparency.
“People understand that government’s gotten too big and we can’t afford it. I think the majority of people agree with that,” he said. “They believe government needs to spend within its means.”
The GOP competitors have been crisscrossing the state, speaking to organizations and business leaders, jockeying for endorsements and trying to fill their campaign coffers — after they remind people there’s a treasurer’s race.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Melinda Deslatte has covered Louisiana politics for The Associated Press since 2000. Follow her at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte
An AP News Analysis