State treasurer: Gudman

Register-Guard October 21, 2016

A strong field of candidates is competing to be Oregon’s next treasurer — and that’s fortunate, because whoever wins will confront some tough issues. Term limits prevent incumbent Ted Wheeler from running again; he has been elected mayor of Portland. Voters should elect a pragmatist with the solid background, someone who would not bring a political agenda to the job: Republican Jeff Gudman.

Election 2016

Gudman, 62, has been involved in finance all his life — he’s a Wharton School MBA, past treasurer or chief financial officer of heavy-equipment and natural gas-related companies, treasurer of the Legacy Emmanuel Hospital Foundation and USA Olympic Swimming, and now a private investor and analyst. He’s a two-term member of the Lake Oswego City Council and a board member of an organization that provides housing for low-income and elderly Portlanders.

Gudman is the dark horse in the race; both his major opponents are better known. Democrat Tobias Read, 41, has represented a Beaverton-area district in the state House of Representatives for five terms, and before that worked for Nike. Read is endorsed by the past three treasurers, all Democrats, and has raised more campaign funds than his opponents.

A third candidate, Chris Telfer, 66, is the new Independent Party of Ore­gon’s most prominent nominee to date. Telfer, a Certified Public Accountant, served a term in the state Senate as a Republican. She’s a former member of the Bend City Council, teaches accounting at Oregon State University’s Bend branch and is a member of the state Lottery Commission. Telfer’s strong mix of experience in public service and accounting has won her the endorsements of a number of newspapers around the state.

But it’s Gudman who offers the most clear-eyed understanding of the challenges facing the next treasurer. He acknowledges that the state can’t count on investment returns to erase a $22 billion unfunded liability in the Public Employees Retirement System, but believes the Legislature can take a series of steps to reduce the system’s costs — such as capping future benefits and changing some of the methods used to calculate pension benefits. Telfer generally supports such steps; Read is less enthusiastic.

Gudman supports Wheeler’s proposal to save an estimated $1 billion over 30 years by bringing some investment-management operations in-house. Read supported that proposal, while Telfer opposes it on grounds that investments are better managed by private contractors. Gudman is sympathetic to Telfer’s point of view, but dryly notes that $1 billion is “not a trivial sum.”

Gudman also intends to exercise firm control over implementation of another of Wheeler’s initiatives, a state-run retirement savings program for workers whose employers don’t offer such plans, noting that Oregon has a poor record of managing big software projects. Read supported legislation to create the program; Telfer says she would have opposed it. Gudman, more than the others, is focused on the job of actually making the program work.

A comprehensive and rational view of the treasurer’s responsibilities pervades Gudman’s approach. He believes the treasurer has a role in economic development, but says the disappointing returns on a state fund for job creation must be improved. He opposes Measure 97, a proposed gross receipts tax on corporations with annual sales of more than $25 million, but says state government needs additional revenue to support public schools. Above all, he has a strong grasp of the treasurer’s duty to act as a fiduciary.

Read and Telfer have one advantage over Gudman — their experience in state government. But coming fresh to Salem might be an asset for someone with the requisite qualifications in management and finance. Gudman is resolutely nonpartisan — tell him that he doesn’t sound much like a 2016 Republican, and he’ll say “thank you.” Oregon voters should make Jeff Gudman their next treasurer.