– Published Friday, September 30th, The Spokesman-Review

Regardless of the outcome, the race for state treasurer will be historic.

Two candidates from the same party made it through the primary, a first for a statewide partisan office. The new treasurer will be a Republican, for the first time in 60 years.

Duane Davidson and Michael Waite benefited from a crowded field, running along with three Democratic candidates. Nobody emerged as the clear favorite.

We recommended Democratic candidate Alec Fisken, who got the endorsement of current Treasurer Jim McIntire (who chose not to run again). McIntire has been an advocate for an income tax, a position we’ve supported (along with a reduction in sales and business taxes).

Davidson, a longtime Benton County treasurer, disagrees. He is personally opposed, but says he would not use the office to try to influence policy matters.

Michael Waite, on the other hand, says he would actively oppose an income tax and would counsel the Legislature to “live within its means.” That seems impractical given the challenge to complete a plan to fully fund basic education – not to mention shoring up the state’s woeful support for mental health care services. Plus, as McIntire has pointed out, the state’s tax burden as a percentage of income has dropped over the past two decades.

Given these two scenarios, we prefer the candidate who will stay away from politics.

DSC02154Policy aside, a look at each candidate’s resume tips the scales to Davidson. He received the endorsements of every county treasurer, except for one who remained neutral. This includes many Democrats. In another measure of respect, he is serving his second term as president of the Washington State Association of County Treasurers.

Upon being elected as Benton County treasurer, in 2003, Davidson traveled to San Francisco and was able to persuade the credit rating agencies to elevate the county’s bond rating, which allowed the county to refinance its debt at significant savings. The Benton County Treasurer’s Office has had all clean audits under Davidson.

Davidson says the state has done a good job investing funds, so he wouldn’t expect to change much there. His three priorities for investing public money are safety, liquidity (money available when needed) and a better yield, which he said is a distant third. This measured approach is reassuring.

Our concern is that Michael Waite’s competitive nature – he was once a professional tennis player in Australia – could lead to the more aggressive investing seen in the private sector. He is an executive with a large private investment firm in Seattle.

Waite says the state has too much debt, which is a product of capital projects in transportation and education. That is something the Legislature needs to keep an eye on.

But in the final analysis, voters should feel more comfortable with Duane Davidson’s public-service experience and steady manner. He gets our endorsement.