For years, Ron Henson was the one left behind at the Treasury Department when John N. Kennedy went politicking.
Henson became state treasurer — at least until the outcome of this fall’s elections — in January after Kennedy was elected on his third try to the U.S. Senate.
Forty-three years a technocrat — the last 17 of which was tending to the nuts and bolts as Kennedy’s number two — Henson is undeniably the most qualified to run Louisiana’s Treasury Department.
But his vision of public service doesn’t include running for office. Henson’s bathroom-mirror musings were fogged with the heavy dose of reality honed over nearly three decades of getting things done at the side of a department’s political face, he said last week. “I realized I’m not a politician.”
He’s more comfortable talking cash flow tactics and investment strategies, while the main candidates vying in the Oct. 14 election have talked about everything but how they would run the Treasury Department. A Nov. 18 runoff is scheduled, if needed — and it probably will be — if no one candidate gets more than half the votes.
Pssst. Have you heard? There's a statewide election happening this fall in Louisiana, to fill the state treasurer's job.
“I do know from being an observer of political races since 1974 that you’ve got to get the voter’s attention somehow. A lot of things we do in the Treasurer’s department are not attention-getters,” Henson said.
The treasurer collects the money that comes in from taxes and fees set by lawmakers; then writes checks to pay the bills when told to by agency heads. If a few days lapse between when the money arrives and when the bills need to be paid, the treasurer invests it, often overnight, to pick up a few million here and there. Though not much in the scheme of things, those extra bucks mean taxpayers have to come out of pocket a little less.
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"In order for each of the candidates to separate themselves from the other or at least compare themselves favorably to the other, they have to talk about a large variety of subjects,” Henson said. “And some of them really don’t have too much linkage to Treasury.”
That’s why candidate Angele Davis’s television commercial talks about supporting President Donald Trump against what the Baton Rouge resident calls the onslaught by the media and liberals. A former commissioner of administration under Gov. Bobby Jindal, Davis is banking on Trump’s popularity in Republican-dominated Louisiana.
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Northeast Louisiana Republican Sen. Neil Riser’s commercial zeroed in on Lake Charles drainage issues. Drainage is a pressing problem to the voters of an area in play for candidates whose bases of support are not in that region, but it’s an issue for local officials and legislators.
Covington’s Republican former state Rep. John Schroder has released a Facebook video telling of the difficulties he and his wife had building a business that develops residences on the booming north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
And while Democrat Derrick Edwards, a New Orleans lawyer, isn’t campaigning in the traditional sense, he’s telling all who listen about overcoming daunting disabilities to earn advanced academic degrees.
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Republican Terry Hughes, of Lafayette, and Libertarian Joseph D. Little, of Ponchatoula, are also in the race but have raised little money and done little campaigning.
When talking on point, the major candidates say they want to be Kennedy 2.0 — providing running commentary on how legislators and the administration handle taxpayer dollars even though the treasurer has no input in how those policies are enacted.
It is true that the three main GOP candidates opposed the hocus-pocus economics practiced by Jindal that Republicans and Democrats now deride for building a state fiscal structure that can’t raise enough money to pay its bills. But Davis, Riser and Schroder were intimately involved in the drafting of those budgets and it’s only now that they give their reservations full throat.
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They’re not unlike the staffers who contended in congressional hearings years later that they thought White Star Line owner Bruce Ismay should have toned down all that “unsinkable Titanic” rhetoric.
In that, Kennedy, as treasurer, was alone. He loudly harped on the structural problems being engineered into the state’s finances. It is a role Henson would like to see the next treasurer continue.
Because the treasurer has eyes on all the little levers of how fiscal philosophies actually operate in the real world, Henson said whoever is holding that post would be an invaluable resource for the state’s budget architects.
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“I would like see the treasurer involved more — if not statutorily, then voluntarily — in the fiscal decisions that are made in this state,” Henson said.