A Loyal Opposition recently had the opportunity to interview Peter Buttigieg on a windy porch behind a downtown Indianapolis fundraiser. He is an incredibly interesting guy who has traveled the world and done some very interesting things which would make him interview-worthy for lotsa blogs. But he is most relevant to readers of ALO and Indiana Democrats statewide because he has opened Pete for Indiana an exploratory committee for State Treasurer. Without waiting for the last minute recruitment from state party. This guy actually wants the job and has good reasons why. You want another reason to pay attention to him, he’s got a message and it’s good enough to win. Seriously.
He officially made a splash this summer at the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association gathering in French Lick when generic black-and-white signs reading simply “MEET PETE” blanketed the entire resort. ALO respects good campaign signage, but there looks to be a lot more to this campaign.
Dark-haired, with a serious demeanor and what Shakespeare’s Caesar would have called a “lean and hungry look” that belies a mellow sense of humor, Buttigieg is a sharp cat with education and experience out the proverbial wazoo and two things so many statewide candidates never have: ideas and a plan to win. Listen up:
‘My business career started after I took my degree from Oxford. I studied philosophy, politics and economics there. But in business that’s where I began spending more time with numbers and less with words. Up to then, I was a history and literature guy.”
“From there I joined a firm that does a lot of strategic consulting for some of the biggest businesses, non-profits and governments in the world. In a nutshell, we help leaders make very big decisions.”
“Personally, that meant doing a lot of analysis from understanding energy markets, to looking at retail pricing, to developing economic development strategies for countries in rough shape. It’s a great job that has taken me all over the world. But my heart has always been with public service.”
“My instinct when I got involved in last year’s governor’s race was to find some data and analyze it,” he continued. He got a copy of the State’s Annual Comprehensive Report put out by the Auditor’s office and it became pretty apparent to him almost immediately that there were lots of things being done with the state’s money, especially Governor Mitch Daniels’ lauded Major Moves funds, that his business analysis background would have never let him advocate.
“I found an inordinate number and amounts of junk bonds about $300 million in Major Moves alone. A lot of us folks up in the Northern part of the state, where I’m from, would really rather own a toll-road, But since we instead own this fund, we want to make sure it’s being managed in, frankly a conservatively invested way.”
“Instead, I think what has happened is the state got sucked into the high-risk, high-return thinking that characterized some of the investment strategies of ’06 –’07 and we all know how that movie ends.”
Pete explained that these particular junk bonds are high risk corporate bonds, but another category that has caught many state treasurers around the country is the mortgage-backed securities that have drawn down state coffers drastically. Buttigieg looks forward to the next state report for a more complete reckoning of these junk investments’ impact to the state’s financial well-being. But the record of mismanagement is already pretty apparent to him.
“What I do know is that at one point more than 20% of the Major Moves fund was invested in these securities and in most pension funds or public funds having twenty percent invested in anything would raise red-flags. It’s just a large concentration of risk.”
When asked if he thinks this high-risk approach is more a part of the Treasurer’s office or the Governor’s he sees a problem of groupthink.
“I think there is certainly an atmosphere that begins with the Governor. One of the issues in the statehouse is that everyone there is the Governor’s guy. The Governor and his party control literally every statewide office.
“Now I would think,” Pete continues, “that the intent of having these separate offices be elected is that there would be some balance just as there is a level of balance in the state senate and the house. So with no balance, or counter-balance in these statewide offices, we don’t know where these risky investment strategies started. We don’t know who among these people is pushing the hardest for us to be this risky with our state investments. Is it the Governor? The Treasurer? The Auditor?”
‘I don’t know, but what I do know is that we ought to have some balance in that gallery to have someone keeping an eye out for this type of unchecked group investing.”
“The Treasurer’s office isn’t a bad place to put a check on some of the more adventurous attitudes that surround finance the last few years. This type of Wall Street-driven mentality that says, ‘let’s take the highest risk to find the highest returns’ you see how people can get carried away.”
It is more than apparent that Pete Buttigeig (pronounced Boot-uh-jig) is a guy who could do all sorts of very interesting and lucrative things. It begs the question why? Why would he run for state treasurer?
The answer is apparent in the energy of his voice during the conversation. He is excited about what he could do for citizens as a state treasurer. He’s excited about it most because he knows there are interesting creative approaches out there that can better the state and he can’t wait to bring them to bear.
“A more proactive state treasurer can do things from bolstering financial inclusion and raising financial literacy rates so fewer citizens are reliant on pay-day loans and other predatory lenders, to ensuring through standards what types of banks the state will do business with so banks treat their customers right.”
He talked about several examples of poor customer practices from banks and financial institutions like credit card rate jumps often without any notice and virulent hidden fees. “The Treasurer doesn’t regulate the banks,” he makes clear, “but the treasurer does a lot of business with them so there can be a carrot and a stick. By saying, ‘we’re happy to do a lot of business with a lot of different banks as a state, but we are going to ask that they conform to a certain standard.’”
Part of that is making sure companies and funds the state invests in aren’t doing business with rogue states or predatory banks and credit companies.
“There is a chance to make this about values in a very constructive and creative way. Treasurer is often seen as a kind of technical, parochial, obscure office. But it’s an important one and it can have a lot of helpful influence and a lot of impact. That’s why I’m getting into this. I think its fun and you can do a lot of good.”
I’ve met some Treasurers and rarely do they seem to bring much fun or creativity to the post. Pete seemed energized by the thought of the service.
In a short discussion, he gave an interesting, understandable, competent stump that had all the earmarks of a seriously constructed campaign plan that makes a case for putting a speed-bump in front of an unfettered, risky and monolithic Daniels statehouse. One can only hope the state Democratic legislative campaigns are listening.
Pete Buttigieg expects to formally launch in early 2010. Learn more about him at www.peteforindiana.com. Shake his hand. See if you don’t think he could have fun while doing a lot of good.