DOVER, Del. -- Delaware's race for state treasurer is becoming more focused on experience and qualifications now that Chip Flowers has said he will not run for re-election, leaving no one with the built-in advantage of being an incumbent.
A tearful Flowers announced recently that he was quitting the race, following a harassment complaint filed by his former deputy and lingering questions about his knowledge of her repeated use of a state credit card for personal purchases.
The decision by Flowers, whose tenure also was marked by repeated clashes with lawmakers and other state officials, clears the way for his erstwhile primary opponent, Sean Barney, to become the Democratic nominee. Republicans Ken Simpler and Sher Valenzuela will square off Sept. 9 in a GOP primary.
The state treasurer manages the collection and disbursement of state funds and oversees, with the guidance of the Cash Management Policy Board, the investment of the state's $1.8 billion cash portfolio.
But the office also has been used as a political platform and launching pad. Gov. Jack Markell and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper each started his political career as Delaware's treasurer, and Flowers also had aspirations for higher office.
The dual perspectives of the treasurer's office have resulted in differing approaches by the candidates seeking to replace Flowers.
"Why would you trust your money to someone who has never managed a dollar ... who has never been a finance officer?" said Simpler, a chief financial officer for a Delaware-based hotel management company who previously oversaw a billion-dollar portfolio as a hedge fund executive.
While neither Barney nor Valenzuela has Simpler's financial expertise, both suggest that there's more to the treasurer's office than serving, as Valenzuela suggested in a recent debate, as "a highly paid bookkeeper."
Valenzuela, who along with her husband built a commercial upholstery business that has landed several lucrative government contracts, says she would be "a true watchdog for taxpayers." She envisions the treasurer's role as working for lower taxes, smaller government and limited regulations to help boost economic development.
"We would use the microphone of this office to advocate for change and deliver results for the taxpayer," said Valenzuela, who was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor two years ago.
Barney, likewise, sees public advocacy as a key component of the treasurer's job. He has vowed to be a "voice for the financially stressed" and an "advocate for individuals, families and communities who seek a brighter economic future."
"It's worth having someone who has broad experience and can make the most of that opportunity," said Barney, a former policy director for Markell and former aide to Carper. "Delaware deserves a treasurer who can also realize the full potential of the office to make a broad difference in people's lives."
While Barney acknowledges that the main responsibility of the treasurer is "making sure the money goes where it's supposed to go," he says he also would build on financial literacy programs for Delaware families that Markell established during his tenure as treasurer.
Simpler argues that the job of helping individuals learn about household budgets and personal finances would be better left to public schools or the Department of Labor. The treasurer's office should instead focus its financial literacy efforts on helping taxpayers better understand the state's finances and what is being done with their tax dollars, he said.
"The treasurer's office can be the place from which we advocate for the most sound fiscal foundation for the state of Delaware," Simpler said.
All three candidates agree that the treasurer also should work to make information about the state's finances more transparent and easier to understand, and to identify and eliminate wasteful and inefficient spending within state government.
"The role of the treasurer is to manage the people's money and to rout out waste and to be accountable for how those dollars are spent," Valenzuela said.