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.