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May 11, 2012

Rutland Treasurer to Challenge Pearce for Vermont's Top Money Job


Updated below with new comments from Progressive candidate Don Schramm

One of the more interesting and unpredictable races shaping up this campaign season is over who will control the state’s cash.
On Monday, Rutland city treasurer and former state senator Wendy Wilton will formally announce her long-rumored campaign for state treasurer, pitting her against a relatively unknown and electorally inexperienced incumbent, State Treasurer Beth Pearce. Wilton is a Republican and Pearce a Democrat.

“I think the state will have the choice between two qualified people. It’s a matter of whose vision they like the best,” Wilton said Thursday afternoon.

Wilton, an outspoken opponent of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposed single-payer health care system, has served as city treasurer since March 2007. She was elected to one term as a Rutland County state senator in 2004, but lost a re-election bid in 2006 when she finished fourth for the three-seat district.

Wilton says that in the five years she has served as city treasurer, she has turned around Rutland’s financial management practices, resulting in the city’s first clean audit opinion in 32 years.

“When I took office here, nobody wanted this job,” she says. “It’s a pretty sad history. The city’s financial operation was in complete shambles.”

Wilton says one of her biggest achievements in office has been “producing accurate, timely financial statements available for use by policymakers.”

“I’m a big believer that when the public and the policy-makers have access to this information, debate and decisions will be based on fact,” she says.

With a staff of 34, the state treasurer’s office oversees the flow of more than $4 billion a year in state funds — investing cash, issuing bonds, overseeing three pension plans and returning unclaimed property.

Pearce, for years the state's deputy treasurer, has headed the office since January 2011, when her boss, former state treasurer Jeb Spaulding, resigned to become Shumlin's secretary of administration. Shumlin subsequently appointed Pearce to finish Spaulding's term. Though she has spent her career in state and municipal finance, Pearce has never run for elected office in Vermont and is relatively unknown throughout the state. In an interview last month, she said she’s focused on doing her job — not thinking about the politics.

“I’m not worried about that. I’m confident in what we’re doing. I think the electorate will respond to that,” she said. “In the meantime, I’ll do business the way I need to and continue to make decisions based on the merits.”

Sam Winship, Pearce's campaign consultant, says the incumbent "is focused on the job right now" and will kick off her campaign "in the next couple of weeks."


It’s unclear whether Pearce or Wilton will face opposition in either of their parties for the nomination.

Two-time Progressive Party candidate Don Schramm, meanwhile, announced earlier this month that he’ll make a third run for the treasurer’s office. Schramm won just shy of 8 percent of the vote in 2010. He said Friday that while he does not intend to raise much money, he plans to campaign more than he has in the past — in part to win the 5 percent of the vote the Progressive Party needs to remain a major party and also to raise issues important to him.

“Does it make sense to have a state bank? What about a state credit card? What about working more collaboratively with member-based financial institutions?” says Schramm, a semi-retired general manager of Data Systems and a former board chairman of the Onion River Co-op.

Schramm is modest about his electoral chances.

“I have a very remote chance of winning. Beth is well known. I like her a lot. I don’t know Wendy,” he says. “Sure, I’d love to win and be a Progressive holding state office. But pragmatically, I think the main thing I’ll do is help promote a conversation about how to make the state better than it is.”

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