Beth Pearce, the incumbent state treasurer, has demonstrated a high level of professionalism and skill owing to long experience in public finance. She deserves election next week.
By contrast, her Republican challenger, Wendy Wilton, has turned the treasurer’s race into a spectacle of partisan belligerence and bogus attacks. Unlike any other candidate running for state office this year, Wilton has dragged politics into the gutter.
It should have been a tip-off when Wilton tried to make a campaign issue of the fact that Pearce rents her home in Montpelier rather than owning a home. Wilton was apparently trying to make the claim that because Pearce is a renter she is not a true Vermonter and is not committed to her community. Wilton claimed that because Pearce did not pay property taxes on a house, she could not possibly understand Vermont’s education funding system.
This argument was offensive on many levels. It was insulting to many good Vermonters who happen to rent their homes (who know that part of their rent goes to pay property taxes). Also, it seemed that Wilton was trying to suggest that Pearce was really from somewhere else and, therefore, not dedicated to her sworn duties as state treasurer. Further, it was insulting to Vermont voters because it was turning the campaign into a lame exercise in petty attack.
In any event, Wilton soon tried to distance herself from her own argument, as she has tried to distance herself from her own record as a conservative Republican politician.
Pearce became treasurer a little less than two years ago when Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed the elected treasurer, Jeb Spaulding, to be secretary of administration. Pearce had served ably as deputy treasurer during the administrations of both Gov. James Douglas and Shumlin. So Shumlin appointed her to fill out Spaulding’s term.
Under Pearce’s stewardship the state has achieved an exceptionally high bond rating, attesting to the integrity of the state’s finances and saving the state millions on interest payments. As deputy treasurer, working under Spaulding, Pearce helped put the state’s pension systems on the road to recovery. She has helped manage the state’s portfolio of investments, preserving its value during the downturn. This is experience that Pearce has and Wilton lacks.
Pearce’s finest hour may have come in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene when she took steps to ease the financial burden on flood-ravaged towns by altering deadlines for tax payments.
All Wilton could say about Pearce’s effort following the flood was that it is what any treasurer would do. The town clerks of affected towns might not be as ready as Wilton to dismiss with a shrug Pearce’s labors on their behalf.
Wilton entered the treasurer’s race on the basis of her service as city treasurer in Rutland. In that post she helped clean up a persistent and complicated fiscal morass, setting Rutland’s finances in order. She is widely credited in Rutland for doing a good job in the treasurer’s office.
But as a state candidate, she has been a disaster, fueled by more than $100,000 in super PAC money from a Burlington heiress, Lenore Broughton, who set up an organization to push conservative causes. Broughton is known to oppose single-payer health care, and Wilton, before she was a candidate, made a highly visible effort to show that Shumlin’s single-payer plan would not work. Now she criticizes Pearce for supporting single-payer and accuses her of being part of the Shumlin “team.” In a Romneyesque effort to distance herself from her own record, she tries to say her political positions of the past are not relevant.
Her baseless efforts to impugn Pearce’s professionalism and independence show that, up against a highly competent opponent, the only course Wilton felt she had was to attack. Her trumped-up accusations extend even to the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank, which she accuses of political collusion for placing Rutland’s finances on a monitoring list. This is not a candidate who could serve well as state treasurer.
Pearce is the kind of professional we want as treasurer. She has sometimes seemed flummoxed by the political contest in which she has found herself, but it is not a demerit on her part that she is unaccustomed to the inflammatory politics that Wilton has brought to the race. Rather, it is to her credit that she has remained focused on the realities of the highly specialized and important work of treasurer.
Beth Pearce deserves to be elected treasurer on Nov. 6.
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