In what’s become the downticket race to watch this season, state Treasurer Beth Pearce received strong endorsements from four key money committee legislators on Thursday, but mostly overlooked her opponent’s recent political offensive.
At a Statehouse press conference, Pearce and four committee chairs lauded Pearce’s efforts to maintain Vermont’s healthy bond rating, implement pension reform, and keep the treasurer’s office professional and apolitical.
But asked about Wendy Wilton’s request for an audit on overtime and management related to retirement systems, Pearce responded, “I think this is politics, election politics, at its worst.”
Pearce defended herself by reiterating that she’d been “managing appropriately,” adding that she hadn’t exceeded her office’s budget for the past two years.
Pearce didn’t venture into more detail about Wilton’s criticisms about overtime expenses, saying, “We need to move on from this overtime thing. We’ve addressed it several times. … I want to run on the issues, and I think voters ultimately will respect that.”
Wilton campaign manager Bradford Broyles dismissed the endorsements as partisan party politics from the Democratic legislators, adding that Wilton did not see it as a major loss. He characterized the endorsements as an attempt by Pearce to distract from the allegations about overtime and mismanagement, repeatedly emphasizing supposed whistleblowers emerging to criticize Pearce.
But, Broyles added, if elected, Wilton would work well with Democrats. “Just because you’re from a different political party doesn’t mean you can’t talk to each other,” he said. Even with the prospect of a Democratic governor backing single-payer health care, said Broyles, “She understands what she’s walking into.”
Meanwhile, Deputy State Auditor Joe Juhasz said that his office requested information from the treasurer yesterday, for a preliminary review in light of Wilton’s complaint. Juhasz judged it too early to tell whether Wilton’s complaint was merely political or actually substantive, noting that such complaints were not unusual in state government.
After the conference, Pearce’s communications director, Dylan Giambatista, denied that the key endorsements, arriving with less than three weeks until Election Day, came as a strategic response to Wilton’s aggressive politics as of late.
Earlier this week, Wilton ran an ad citing research group USPIRG’s “D minus” rating of Vermont for fiscal transparency, though the ad didn’t clarify that the report actually referred to the Department of Finance and Management’s website, not the state treasurer.
Giambatista said only, “There have been some political theatrics recently. Beth is about professionalism. … This is a show of it.”
Although the four endorsing legislators were all Democrats, Pearce said she enjoys a broad cross-section of support, referencing the variety of her campaign donors. She didn’t name any Republican lawmakers or politicians who supported her bid.
The four legislators who endorsed Pearce were Martha Heath, chair of House Appropriations; Janet Ancel, chair of House Ways and Means; Ann Cummings, chair of Senate Finance; and Jane Kitchel, chair of Senate Appropriations.
Throughout the press conference and afterwards, the legislators hinted but didn’t outright say that working with Wilton could prove difficult for them, suggesting that it’d at least be an uncertain prospect. Afterwards, Reps. Heath and Ancel said they wanted the office to remain non-political, professional, and competent, but couldn’t say whether they’d work well with Wilton, because they hadn’t worked with her previously and didn’t know much about her record or experience.
As for the closeness and importance of the race, Ancel suspected that Vermonters understood and cared about abstract issues like the state’s bond rating more than most expected. This year the treasurer’s race had become a race most Vermonters should pay attention to, said Ancel.
“I don’t know whether I’ve seen TV ads in the treasurer’s race before, for example,” she said. “So, you don’t want to just assume that it’s going to work out [for Pearce]…which is why we all made the trip here to do the endorsement.”
“We have ads on TV for Wendy Wilton, and ads paid for by outside parties,” said Heath. “That’s such an unusual situation. It just makes you wonder whether it’s closer than we feel it ought to be.”