State Rep. Justin Everett, a Littleton Republican, announced Tuesday morning that he’s running for state treasurer in next year’s election.
“We need a chief financial officer of the state who is willing to make tough decisions and weigh in on policy, whether it’s federal block grants or school finance or PERA [the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association] or even tax increases for funding for transportation, which are completely unnecessary, by the way,” Everett told The Colorado Statesman in an interview on Monday. “That’s why we’re announcing on tax day — the No. 1 job of the treasurer is to protect taxpayers, and I’m not afraid to make tough decisions that affect taxpayers on policy.”
Everett, who was elected to his third term representing Jefferson County’s House District 22 in November, is the first Republican to declare he’s running in what could be a crowded primary field. The incumbent, Republican Walker Stapleton, is term-limited and is considering a run for governor. State Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat, several weeks ago became the first candidate to announce a bid for the office.
Known around the Capitol as “Dr. No” and “Justin Neverett” — “I have a reputation for voting ‘no’ quite a bit and being the adult in the room,” he says, shrugging at organizations that consistently rank him as the most negative lawmaker and the most conservative one to boot —Everett prides himself on reading every line of every bill and every amendment before casting his vote, and he says that’s a reason he votes against measures more often than not.
“It’s my responsibility as a state representative,” Everett said, expressing some dismay that the practice counts as anything special, although he acknowledges it’s a distinction he’ll point out when people ask why he votes “no” so often.
“A lot of bills sound great until you read everything that’s in them,” he said with a smile. “Even though my positions may not all be politically popular, I feel very confident with what I’ve done the last five years looking out for taxpayers and making sure we’re fiscally responsible.”
The state treasurer manages roughly $6.5 billion in more than 750 state funds and is an ex officio member of the PERA board.
Everett noted that he’s run a number of bills addressing PERA’s operations and said he plans to focus on the retirement plan if he’s elected.
“We have a $30 billion unfunded liability with PERA,” he said. “It needs more transparency — we need to find out what that number is and what their investment strategy is. We’ve kicked the can so far down the road, we’re going to have to make tougher decisions than we would have in the past.”
While he says Stapleton has done a good job with the office’s many duties, Everett said he plans to take a look at the office’s investment strategy with an eye toward increasing yields on the state’s funds.
“We can always do better,” he said. “We’re looking at a 1 1/2-2 percent return; why can’t we be at 3 or 4 percent while still minimizing risk? You want to be conservative enough where we are not putting things at risk but aggressive enough that we can grow our portfolio.”
In addition, he said he envisions a more vocal role as treasurer.
“I think you need to have a treasurer willing to weigh in on more fiscal issues and have a louder voice, especially on things coming down from Washington,” Everett said.
Noting that he has an MBA with an emphasis on finance and investments —he consulted on raising venture capital and managing growth for startups before transitioning to work focusing on alternative dispute resolution — Everett said he’ll consider getting a Bloomberg terminal to provide the office with immediate market intelligence for the occasions when that’s essential.
Other Republicans said to be considering a run for state treasurer include state Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Roxborough Park, businessman and former legislative candidate Brian Watson, Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn and Republican National Committeeman and former congressional candidate George Leing.
“I don’t think anyone else thinking of running has a record of protecting taxpayers and making fiscal responsible decisions,” Everett said. “You want somebody you can rely on and can count on based on what they’ve done.”
Everett said he plans to go through the caucus and assembly process to get on next year’s primary ballot.
While he’s been traveling the state representing the House GOP caucus at Lincoln Day dinners and other Republican events — visiting 18 counties in the past two months, he said — Everett admitted that it’s not a bad way for a potential statewide candidate to get to know voters, either.
“We cannot ignore rural Colorado and other parts of the state that are not metro Denver. Anyone who’s running for statewide office has to realize that,” he said. “No one’s going to outwork me.”