Saying his 11 years as Colorado's chief financial officer have prepared him better than the politicians who are running, Democrat Charles Scheibe on Tuesday entered a crowded field for state treasurer that includes five state lawmakers, a county treasurer, an elected prosecutor and a former legislative candidate.
"As a taxpayer, who would you rather have managing all of the money you pay the state to fund schools, roads, and emergency services?" Scheibe asked in his announcement. "Would it be a novice who has never managed a $29 billion budget, or someone who has been doing it on a daily basis for more than a decade?"
After managing the day-to-day operations of the office under state treasurers Cary Kennedy, a Democrat, and Walker Stapleton, a Republican - both are running for governor in next year's election - Scheibe said his experience overseeing its key functions make him the most qualified successor for Stapleton, who is term-limited.
"It's not just the 11 years of running the office, but running it through difficult times," he told Colorado Politics in an interview, pointing out that Kennedy hired him at the start of her term, a little over a year before the economy tanked.
"I think I've built up a rapport with the rating agencies which could prove vital in the coming years, following Standard & Poor's putting the state of Colorado on negative outlook based on the troubled (Public Employees Retirement Association) situation. Over the years, they've developed a trust that when I tell them how our finances are doing, they can count on it."
Scheibe ran for office once before - for a seat on his hometown city council, in San Antonio, nearly 45 years ago when he was 18 and 18-year-olds had just won the right to vote. He finished fourth in a field of six. "I got my taste of politics, but there were lots of things to do in business, so ." Scheibe said, trailing off with a smile.
"I may not know a lot about running a political campaign," Scheibe says in an announcement video released Tuesday by his fledgling campaign, "but I know everything about managing your tax dollars."
The state treasurer is responsible for managing roughly $6.5 billion annually in more than 750 state funds and has a seat on the Colorado PERA board. The office also runs the state's Unclaimed Property Division, which reunites people and businesses with property and cash through the Great Colorado Payback program.
"If we're ever in the news, that's bad news," Scheibe told Colorado Politics with a smile."The treasurer's office is often seen as a stepping-stone to other office, so a lot of people may not have their heart in it," he said. "But that's one of my advantages - I am passionate about it. The treasurer's office makes sure your dollars are safe, easily accessible and earning the best possible yield with the lowest risk. This is your tax money waiting to be spent."
He said his job has remained pretty much the same under Kennedy, the Democrat, and Stapleton, the Republican. "I think the office is in good shape. I think we've maintained programs the way we've wanted. We've continued to do the best issuances, and nothing has materially changed in our approach to cash-flow management, or our savings or investment strategy, which is extremely conservative, in the financial sense."
As for a fix to PERA - the $44 billion pension fund covering more than 560,000 current and former government employees throughout the state - Scheibe said it's important to keep in mind that the treasurer holds just one of 15 seats on the PERA board but has tremendous authority when it comes to reassuring rating agencies and credit markets that Colorado is taking the pension fund's unfunded liabilities seriously and working toward a resolution.
"I can stand my ground and make a political statement that's not going to get us anywhere," he said, shaking his head. "I think it's more important that we come up with a solution."
Scheibe sounded skeptical about a proposal Stapleton recently made to freeze retirement benefits until PERA is fully funded.
"The problem is, if you're only one of 15 votes, it's not going to get anywhere," Scheibe said. He said it was better to solve the shortfall "inch by inch by inch to get there vs. a plan that obviously would solve the problem but would never be accepted."
Scheibe's stint at the Colorado Department of Treasury caps a business career spanning nearly 40 years, including work as an auditor and an accountant, as a chief financial officer and a chief executive for start-ups, as well as a senior consultant advising Fortune 500 companies on corporate governance and risk management issues. He got an MBA from the University of Texas in Austin and a law degree from the South Texas College of Law in Houston. Later, after earning a graduate degree in taxation law at the University of Denver, Scheibe got the job with Kennedy.
Sheibe joins three other candidates in the Democratic state treasurer primary - political newcomer Bernard Douthit and state Reps. Dave Young of Greeley and Steve Lebsock of Thornton. Lebsock is facing calls that he end his campaign in the wake of allegations he sexually harassed a fellow state lawmaker and other women at the Capitol.
Six Republicans are running for the office, including state Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, state Reps. Justin Everett of Littleton and Polly Lawrence of Roxborough Park, Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn, District Attorney Brett Barkey and Brian Watson, a commercial real estate CEO who made an unsuccessful run for a state House seat five years ago.