SPOKANE — It’s a foregone conclusion that a Republican will be the next state treasurer in Washington state.
That’s because the two candidates running in the November election — Duane Davidson and Michael Waite — are both Republicans. It’s the first time in state history that two GOP candidates have advanced to the general election in a statewide office race.
“It’s kind of neat to be part of history,” said Davidson, 57, the treasurer in Benton County, which includes the cities of Kennewick and Richland. His opponent, Waite, 39, is an investment executive in Seattle.
Both men are seeking to replace Democrat James McIntire to become the state’s chief financial officer, responsible for managing cash flow, debt and major investments. The treasurer also manages the sale of bonds that fund government projects.
A Republican has not held the office since 1957.
The top two vote-getters in the primary advance to the general election, and three Democrats split the vote, paving the way for Davidson and Waite in the general election.
The candidates share many beliefs, they said, but agree there are big differences.
Davidson was president of the state Association of County Treasurers for three terms and has been treasurer of Benton County for four terms. In contrast, this is Waite’s first run for public office.
“I bring 15-plus years of financial leadership in the billions of dollars,” said Waite, a former tennis professional from Australia who traveled the world for a time as a professional tennis player and eventually became a financial manager, working for a time for the private investment company of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Waite said he sees the treasurer as someone who works with Wall Street to get the best deal for the state on its money. The state is managing $20 billion in debt, Waite said.
“Not all that debt is bid competitively,” Waite said. “We need to get the best deal for taxpayers.”
Davidson said his work as a county treasurer is much different from his opponent’s work as a financial executive for Gates.
“I have 187,000 bosses, not just one,” Davidson said.
Davidson said he succeeded in making the Benton County treasurer’s office more efficient, producing clean audits and modernizing the office.
“I know how to work in a bipartisan fashion,” Davidson said, noting he has endorsements from every county treasurer in the state. State Senate GOP leader Mark Schoesler and Democratic Minority Leader Sharon Nelson have also both endorsed Davidson.
Davidson, a longtime CPA, sees the jobs of county and state treasurer as pretty similar, and noted that most state treasurers began as county treasurers.
Big financial issues facing the state include court orders to increase financing for public education and financial stresses on low-population counties to pay for the needs of government, he said.
He believes he could improve relations between the state and county governments.
“It’s not a partisan thing,” Davidson said. “Some relationships are strained.”
Waite also said he would focus on state pension plans, working to keep management costs low.
“I will make sure they have the lowest costs for the safest and best return,” Waite said.
He wants to reduce the state’s debt.
“I believe it is time for a treasurer who believes that increasing taxes and taking on more debt should be the last resort, not the first option,” Waite said.
As such, Waite expects to be involved in the political process.