The following are our two Citizen conversations:
The Republican incumbent for Idaho state treasurer
Ron Crane will turn 67 years old on Sunday, Nov. 2. But he may be a bit too busy to celebrate; he's in the political fight of his career. Mind you, he's never lost an election. He served 16 years in the Idaho House and has been repeatedly re-elected as Idaho state treasurer since 1998. But through many of those years, he rarely had opposition.
Media reports of alleged scandal swirled around his office in the past few years, beginning with the use of stretch limos in Manhattan on several occasions (three trips in 2009, 2010 and 2011 racked up $10,000 in limo expenses); using a state credit card to put fuel in his personal vehicle (Crane insisted that he was saving tax dollars by turning in his state car); and a blistering state audit that said Crane's office had "inappropriately transferred investments ... resulting in a disproportionate share of investment losses incurred by the state."
Boise Weekly sat down with Crane in his Statehouse office to talk about the scandals, his campaign and his political roots.
Were you always political?
I remember, as a boy, crying the night that John Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon [in 1960] because I had seen Nixon come to Boise. I was heartbroken. I loved Ronald Reagan, so in 1980, I went down to Republican headquarters and asked "What can I do?" A short time later, I was a precinct committeeman. In 1983, I was fortunate to be appointed to the Idaho House, representing Canyon County for 16 years. It's pretty amazing to me to look back and think about the first time I sat in the Legislature. I was 34 years old.
How was your first election in the early 1980s, compared to today's political climate?
I remember my first session in the Legislature. I saw two veterans—a Republican and Democrat—really going after each other vociferously, a real heated debated. But when we adjourned, they met in the middle aisle, quite literally, and went off to lunch together. That spoke volumes to me, but that's very different than today.
Would you agree that there's a fight for the heart for the Republican Party?
I think it's overemphasized by the media. You'll notice that I didn't have a primary opponent this year. I get along very well with the conservative and moderate factions of the party.
Are Idaho assets still hovering around $2.7 billion?
Closer to $3 billion
What would you tell a voter who has concerns about your office's investment strategies?
The LSO [Legislative Service Office] audit's critique centered around seven securities that we purchased for our portfolio in 2005, 2006 and 2007. There were mortgage-backed securities and traditionally, they're good investments. Those mortgages are usually bundled and sold on the secondary market.
But anyone knows what happened in 2008 when that market nearly fell off a cliff.
The value of those securities went down by about $80 million. Now, if we had sold those securities, we would have realized those losses. The LSO audit report suggested that we should have sold them and divided the loss between the Local Government Investment Pool and the Idle Pool. But we held those securities through 2013 and they came back in value.
Are you saying that there were no losses?
That's correct. There wasn't a dime of principal that was lost.
But we did lose opportunity money.
By 2013, this office had enough interest earnings and portfolio gains that we took five of those securities out of the portfolio and there was still about a profit of about $122,000. We still have two more securities in the portfolio, and as of today, they're still about $10 million down.
So, I'm assuming that you'll continue to sit on those two remaining securities.
Exactly. The same thing happened with our endowment fund when it went down in value. We didn't sell, rode out the storm and now they're doing quite well.
We've heard that you thought that the legislative audit had political motivation behind it.
That's right. I would prefer not to go on record with what my full opinion is; but I assume it was politically motivated.
Do you read the daily paper?
The one in Nampa [Idaho Press-Tribune].
Then, let me read a bit of what the Idaho Statesman wrote in July. Basically, they said your position should not be an elected office.
I'm not surprised.
Let's talk about your now-infamous trips to New York and limousine rides.
I'm tasked with getting anywhere from eight to 10 people from a midtown hotel down to Wall Street. It's an annual trip, each June, where we sell tax anticipation notes.
Many of us have traveled through Manhattan and realize that there are several options, including public transportation.
But the cheapest, most efficient way, instead of taking four cabs, was to put them all in one vehicle: a limousine. The previous treasurer told me that that the cheapest way was to use a limousine. That was Lydia Justice Edwards [1987-1998] who did it that way, and the treasurer before her, Marjorie Ruth Moon [1963-1986], a Democrat, did it that way.
Are you implying that you got nailed because of political motivation?
Of course. It was great for headlines. So, since 2011, I started using SUVs that cost more than the limo service ever did.
What a minute. That's wrong.
No, because perception dictated to me that I had to do something different. Otherwise I would have continued to be crucified.
To be clear, it's costing us more for you not to use a limousine and instead use an SUV?
My point all along.
Are you sticking with that policy to use SUVs?
For the time being. I just couldn't get past the perception that the media created. They don't care about saving taxpayer dollars. They care about headlines.Deborah Silver
The Democratic challenger for Idaho State Treasurer
Deborah Silver, 58, never considered herself to be political—that is until she had a brother on the front lines of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. And she never considered running for office—that is until she says scandal soiled the Idaho State Treasurer's Office.
Now, she and her husband of 38 years, LeRoy Hayes, are crisscrossing Idaho in the final days of a campaign to unseat Ron Crane, who has controlled the treasurer's office since his first electoral victory in 1998.
"The only way to fire this treasurer is with your vote," said Silver in an Oct. 16 debate with Crane.
And Silver, who has partnered with her husband of nearly 30 years in a Magic Valley accounting firm, says she has the ideal combination of experience and tenacity to take over as treasurer.
You and your husband have been personal and professional partners for quite some time now. Do you have an idea of how many tax forms that you've processed?
Oh my, no. Tens of thousands, at least.
Did you grow up around politics?
Not particularly. I actually thought I was a Republican for much of my adult life. That is until about 10 years ago.
The George W. Bush era?
I had family on the front line. My brother was in Iraq and I thought there was a rush to war, but the only people willing to have a discussion about that were Democrats. Soon thereafter I became a Democratic county chair in Twin Falls.
And when did you come to the realization that you should challenge Ron Crane?
It was this past spring. Do you remember, at the height of his scandals, Crane said go ahead and read the audit [an independent state audit concluded that Crane's office had "inappropriately transferred investments ... resulting in a disproportionate share of investment losses incurred by the state"]. Well, I'm an accountant so I was definitely going to read that audit. I was appalled... absolutely appalled. I promise you that if a Democrat was in that office, the Legislature would never have allowed this.
It's one thing to be upset. But you made a pretty big decision to challenge an incumbent.
I honestly thought Republicans would have run someone else, but they didn't. I decided this could not be allowed to continue.
Did you have a sense of how considerable it would be to mount a statewide campaign?
My husband is working seven days a week to cover my clients.
And the money?
I've raised money for Twin Falls Democrats before.
But this is a much bigger task. You and I know that radio, television, full-page newspaper ads and glossy mailings are quite expensive.
It would be great to raise millions, but that's not realistic. I'm not going have the kind of money Ron Crane has; but I have the truth.
And what's the message you hear on the campaign trail?
That voters aren't crazy about incumbents.
I'm not sure if that's true. We have a tendency to re-elect incumbents at a pretty good clip.
But when I tell people that Crane has been there for 16 years, they're stunned. Even Republicans are saying it's wrong. Having a Democrat in that office would be quite healthy; I promise you that a Republican Legislature would keep an eye on things.
But you must acknowledge that, to be successful, you're going to have to secure a fair amount of Republican votes.
There are people who will never vote for a Democrat, but I think there's a huge middle ground. And anyone paying attention to this race is looking for a change. Allowing his kind of behavior in public office hurts every other public servant. The fact that we're not holding him accountable is especially disturbing and besmirches every public spirit.
How would you best characterize your investment strategies?
I'm extremely conservative in the truest sense of the word.
But Idaho traditionally has a healthy amount of money to invest on a daily basis.
But you don't risk the principal. When you invest your own money, you can have some risk.
When you're investing someone else's money, everything is different.
What's the one big question you present to Ron Crane in any candidate forums?
"What were you thinking? Your office inappropriately transferred investments from the Local Government Pool [public monies from cities, highway, school, sewer and water districts] to the Idle Pool [public monies that don't need to be spent immediately], resulting in a disproportionate share of investment losses incurred by the state" [auditors noted that the losses were nearly $17 million]. When Idaho's county treasurers meet, they always insist that you should never risk taxpayers' money. That's how the state treasurer must act.
Do you think there should have been a formal ethics investigation from the Legislature?
I haven't thought about that. But you know what? A lot of this is character. You shouldn't have to tell anyone at this level that they shouldn't have done these things. He's been called "Crafty Crane," and I get that. He always wants to talk about something else. It's admit nothing, deny everything and make counter-accusations.
How critical will voter turnout be to your campaign?
It's a challenge; but it's my only path to victory.
Do you know where the votes are?
Well, I got 85 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. It's all about earning trust.
What's your level of energy in the final days of the campaign?
Sometimes I feel like a teenager. I get very excited about this.