Republican Mark Lowery and Democrat Pam Whitaker are running to fill the position of Arkansas State Treasurer currently held by Dennis Milligan, who is running for term and running for State Auditor.
The Treasurer is the state’s banker and oversees a $4.5 billion investment portfolio. The treasurer is responsible for ensuring the security and liquidity of the state portfolio and ensuring that there is a good return on investment.
The office is responsible for receiving and making payments and overseeing wire transfers. The Treasurer also serves on the boards of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and the Arkansas Teachers Retirement System.
Early voting is underway for the November 8 general election.
Both candidates originally planned to run for other positions, with Lowery initially announcing a run for Secretary of State and Whitaker previously announcing a run for mayor of Little Rock.
Lowery is a Maumelle State Representative, and Whitaker is CEO of East Coast Awakening, an aerial drone services company, and previously worked at the Internal Revenue Service, where she worked on technical program management. , systems engineering and process improvement initiatives.
Prior to his election to the Legislative Assembly in 2012, Lowery, 65, worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Arkansas, lobbyist and insurance executive. He is chairman of the House Insurance and Commerce Committee and said his five terms in the General Assembly have prepared him for a constitutional post.
“I was a fighter in my 10 years in the Legislative Assembly,” Lowery said. “I will use this office as a pulpit to roam the state, as I have done before, gleaning information from the Arkansans and hopefully being able to report it and speak with lawmakers.”
If elected, Lowery pledged to continue to divest public funds from companies that subscribe to an environmental, social and governance, or ESG, investment model. The model, backed by many big Wall Street firms, is to consider environmental and social factors, not just profit when investing.
In March, current state treasurer Milligan handed over $125 million in state funds to New York-based firm BlackRock.
Lowery said if elected, he would divest from companies that divest from fossil fuels or institute LGBTQ diversity practices when hiring. He said he would consider divesting the state from other companies that use an ESG strategy such as Vanguard or State Street Corporation.
“I think the fiduciary responsibility that I have as treasurer is to make sure people’s money is invested in a way that we focus on [the] return on investment rather than political correctness,” Lowery said.
Lowery said he also wanted to bring in an “unpaid council of economic advisers” who would consult with the treasurer’s investment team.
Lowery filed for bankruptcy twice. In 1998, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which allows for the liquidation of assets to help pay creditors. The case was dismissed later that year.
In 2017, Lowery filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which allows those with a regular income to develop a plan to pay off their debts. Lowery was criticized by the main Republican opponent, State Senator Mat Pitsch of Fort Smith and Whitaker, who said it was a sign that Lowery was unfit for the job.
Lowery said he shouldn’t be hit for exercising a constitutional right to declare bankruptcy and, like many Arkansas, he knows what it’s like to struggle financially.
“I think it prepared me better to understand the mitigating issues that a lot of people go through, whether it’s medical bills, whether it’s divorce, etc., that creates difficulties. “Lowery said. “While I wouldn’t have wanted this to be part of my political resume, I think it made me much more approachable and understanding of the challenges that the average Arkansans face.”
Whitaker, 67, is a native of Oklahoma who moved to Arkansas to care for his mother after working for the IRS in Washington, D.C.
She has a background in software and hardware development for defense contractor General Dynamics. In addition to being CEO, Whitaker is the founder of the non-profit organization Cyber Fly Girls, which aims to encourage more women to study science, technology, engineering and math.
Whitaker said that due to her background in business, software development, auditing and nonprofit work, she is the most qualified candidate.
“I’m competent, I have experience, I have management-level experience in all areas,” Whitaker said. “I know how to talk to people who are on all levels, and I’ve lived on all levels.”
Whitaker said as treasurer she would take a more active role in educating the public about financial literacy and cybersecurity.
Whitaker took issue with Lowery, noting his two bankruptcies and an $800 fine from the Arkansas Ethics Commission levied against him in August for failing to file timely campaign finance reports. Lowery said he was found guilty of committing “administrative errors, not ethical violations.”
“There seems to be a distinct difference in trust and integrity with people running,” Whitaker said.
Asked about divesting public funds from fossil fuels, Whitaker said if elected treasurer she would consider it, saying climate change as well as a growing demand for electric vehicles could mean fossil fuels are on the decline. She said if elected she would call on a group of advisers to analyze whether to divest from fossil fuels.
“I think things are changing in terms of what makes money,” Whitaker said. “You have to be observant on the whole market.”
Whitaker said she would create public relations programs to educate the public on how to protect their financial and personal information. She also pledged to bring more transparency to the office and keep investment goals on track.
“All I can say is that I’m going to do my best to get others involved, and it will be fair and measurable input from others,” Whitaker said.
Profession: Part-time university professor
Education: Master and Bachelor of Arts in Communication, University of Arkansas
Public Service Experience: Five Terms in the Arkansas Legislative Assembly
Residence: Little Rock
Occupation: Education Coordinator, Central Arkansas ISACA
Education: Bachelor of Computer Science, Oklahoma State University
Public Service Experience: League of Women Voters, VIPS Little Rock School District Board Member, National Contract Management Association, InfraGard; Arkansas Small Business Associations Inc., Arkansas Users of Telecom and Information Systems, founder of the nonprofit Cyber Fly Girls