Posted: March 19, 2010
By Celia Cohen
Treasurer would be a forgettable state office if it did not spit out a governor now and then.
Otherwise, treasurer could be lumped in with auditor and insurance commissioner, the other green-eyeshade officers in Delaware's statewide lineup.
They are elected to spend four years in jobs that sound duller than a dial tone.
Treasurer, however, has a dash of political panache to set it off from the others because of Jack Markell and Tom Carper. The office was the proving ground that sent Markell onward to be the Democratic governor and Carper to be the Democratic congressman, governor and now senator.
It could account for why three people are running for treasurer this year. The salary of $107,000 a year probably does not hurt, either, not in this economy.
The Republicans appear to be settling on Colin Bonini, a state senator from a Dover area district. He is in the middle of a four-year term and does not have to resign to run.
The Democrats look like they are heading for a primary between Velda Jones-Potter, the current treasurer appointed by Markell to finish out his term, and Chip Flowers, a lawyer.
The office is the Democrats to lose, but it could happen, despite what has been an unstoppable winning streak that has brought them seven of the nine statewide offices.
Not only do the Democrats have a primary, they have candidates who have not run for office before and are largely self-financing so far. Going into the election year, Flowers loaned his campaign $56,000, and Jones-Potter loaned hers $55,000.
By contrast, Bonini is an experienced politician who has been part of the state Senate since 1994. He is not self-financing. He collected more than $100,000 in contributions, split between his campaign account and his Responsible Delaware PAC.
Bonini's timing looks good, too, with his fellow Republicans energized by the candidacies of Mike Castle for senator and probably Michele Rollins for the congressional seat Castle is leaving behind.
The treasurer's office is something of a Rorschach test for the candidates. They all see something different for themselves in a job that is essentially the state's bookkeeper, collecting money, writing checks and balancing the accounts with a workforce of 24 people.
Bonini looks at himself as treasurer and sees a taxpayers' advocate, championing the catchphrase, "It's the spending, stupid!"
Bonini promises to make the office a bully pulpit to stand fast against wasteful spending and excessive taxes. His latest crusade is the mileage money that legislators get for driving roundtrip to Legislative Hall in Dover. The rate is 40 cents a mile. Bonini announced this week he will refuse his own reimbursement.
"As you can imagine, I'm very popular with my colleagues," Bonini quipped.
This would be more impressive if Bonini did not happen to live a mere seven miles away.
It would also be more impressive if it involved a bigger budget item. In a $3 billion state budget, the Senate was allotted $42,000 for mileage and the House of Representatives $70,000, but even those numbers are actually inflated over reality.
There is so little money spent on mileage, the House is still working from its appropriation from last year and the Senate from its appropriation from two years ago. Nothing in the General Assembly is ever what it seems.
Flowers looks at himself as treasurer and sees a shadow governor.
He has a nine-page manifesto that has the office bursting beyond its bookkeeping into economic and fiscal policy, gobbling functions and personnel from the Finance Department, Delaware Economic Development Office and DEFAC, the Delaware Economic & Financial Advisory Council, which projects state revenues.
In an age of government austerity, a proposal to supercharge an office sounds anomalous, but Flowers says it is not the case.
"Having a small treasurer's office has actually hurt the state," Flowers said.
Jones-Potter looks at herself as treasurer and sees, actually, a treasurer.
Maybe it is her financial background. She worked for MBNA and DuPont, which also detached her through its executive loaner program to be the finance director for Wilmington.
"I don't think either of them really wants to be treasurer," Jones-Potter said.
She promises to focus on cost-saving efficiencies and also public transparency. There could be something to the transparency.
The Web site for the treasurer's office lists the name, role and telephone number of everyone there. For contrast, try searching for a listing for Tony DeLuca, the state Senate's Democratic president pro tem, at his day job with the Labor Department.
Stop the mouse clicks when DeLuca's name turns up or carpal tunnel sets in, whichever is first.