The incumbent no longer running, the position of State Treasurer is up for grabs
Four years ago, the office of the Wisconsin state treasurer was catapulted from relative obscurity into statewide attention.
In 2018, an Eau Claire investment manager named Sarah Godlewski led a statewide campaign that saved the office, defeating a constitutional amendment to remove the elected position. Godlewski, a Democrat, turned that victory into a successful campaign to be the next state treasurer in November.
Once in the office, she raised his profile. The official duties of the independently elected treasurer have been steadily curtailed by the Legislative Assembly over the past 20 years (one of the reasons lawmakers have said they want to eliminate the office altogether).
The treasurer’s signature goes on state government checks. The Treasurer also sits with the Secretary of State and Attorney General on the Board of Public Lands Commissioners, which manages a $1.3 billion trust fund and 77,000 acres of state-owned land. The board distributes fund revenues to public school libraries and lends money to public projects.
In his campaign, Godlewski sought to position the office of treasurer as the state’s fiscal watchdog. She turned the desk into a bully pulpit on portfolio politics. Godlewski chaired a task force on retirement security appointed by Gov. Tony Evers (a fellow Democrat) and created a task force on home ownership. She called meetings with local government treasurers.
Just this week, she joined an event in Madison to rally support for the Democratic Party budget bill which was unveiled in Washington, DC, a week ago to tackle climate change, prescription drug costs and taxes.
“Godlewski has really revitalized the office, using it as a platform not only to do the kind of budget oversight work typically associated with offices of independent treasurers, but also to highlight economic security issues such as the home ownership and student debt,” says the Marquette University political scientist. Phil Rocco.
If Godlewski had run for re-election, she likely would have had a strong hand. Instead, she entered the U.S. Senate Democratic primary. (Godlewsky finished this campaign last week, endorsing Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes, now the almost certain Democratic nominee to challenge Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.)
In the absence of a candidacy for a second term from the incumbent, a series of hopefuls have entered the race to succeed him. None of them are widely known to the general public, however, and the race itself has been overshadowed by other contests: for governor, attorney general, and for Johnson’s Senate seat.
The Republican and Democratic parties are holding primaries on Tuesday to choose candidates for the Nov. 8 election.
On the Democratic side, there are three candidates:
- Angelito Tenorio of West Allis
- Aaron Richardson, of Fitchburg
- Gillian Battino, from Wausau
Two people are running for the Republican nomination:
- John Leiber, of Cottage Grove
- Orlando Owens, of Milwaukee
All three Democratic candidates make political presentations that combine the official duties of treasurer with the role of advocate.
“The Democrats running in this primary seem to be building on the model set by Godlewski,” Rocco says. “We don’t necessarily see the same thing on the Republican side.”
Angelito Tenorio, son of Filipino immigrants, is a West Allis alder and development officer for the nonprofit Wisconsin Conservation Voters. He was the first of the Democratic hopefuls to enter the race, announcing in July 2021.
Tenorio’s campaign emphasizes three roles: the treasurer as a budget watchdog, including as an advocate for “responsible and disciplined spending” as well as budget transparency; promote economic and retirement security and financial literacy; and the promotion of socially responsible investments by the State.
Tenorio has amassed a long list of endorsements, including from Assembly Minority Leader Greta Neubauer, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, a number of other Democratic state lawmakers as well as local officials statewide, as well as state and local. activist groups including Wisconsin Citizen Action and BLOC, Black Leaders Organizing Communities.
Aaron Richardson is the mayor of Fitchburg and a technology consultant working for the Oregon School District. He declared his candidacy in September 2021.
Richardson’s campaign proposes a homeownership program that would allow potential buyers to rent a property, converting it into a purchase; modify the state’s unclaimed property program to require people to donate their unclaimed property to charity; and promoting financial literacy education. He is also committed to promoting environmentally friendly investments and advocating for restrictions on payday loans.
Richardson was endorsed by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, a number of other Dane County office holders as well as other local officials across the state.
Gillian Battino is a radiologist in Wausau. Battino, a political newcomer who originally entered the Democratic Senate primary from Wisconsin, switched in February to seek the state treasurer.
Battino’s campaign website focuses almost exclusively on the office as an advocate, offering as treasurer to address health care access, prescription drug costs and education “in partnership with other officials”. A list of priorities includes automatic retirement plan enrollment, promoting student debt forgiveness and repayment options, and other general goals. On Twitter, her campaign also strongly emphasized the right to abortion.
The site does not offer details on how the Treasurer’s Office might resolve the issues it identifies.
Mentions of Battino come from Emily’s List and other national groups promoting women candidates, as well as Our Wisconsin Revolution and Secretary of State Doug La Follette.
John Leiber is a Madison attorney living in Cottage Grove. A former Wisconsin Assembly staffer, he was an unsuccessful Assembly candidate in 2018.
Leiber describes himself as “a true fiscal conservative” and focuses solely on managing the assets the office oversees as well as those of the Board of Public Lands Commissioners.
He promises to administer the office “without growing the government and without using it as a stepping stone to another office.” His campaign website also presents his candidacy as “an asset to the [Republican] party ticket in November.
Leiber hails from Racine and has been endorsed by Rep. Robert Wittke and Senator Van Wanggaard, both Racine-area Republicans, among others.
Orlando Owens, of Milwaukee, is Senator Ron Johnson’s Southeast Regional Director.
Owens’ campaign website features the slogan “God – Family – Country – Arms”. He describes his proposed goal in the Treasurer’s Office as the development of the workforce and the economy, including “the expansion and exploration of current and new markets” for products. dairy and manufacturing. He also identifies as his priorities opposing “all mask mandates and COVID-19,” stopping “critical race theory,” electoral integrity, and supporting school choice and small enterprises.
Owens’ website does not list endorsements.
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