Longtime Republican insider, activist and financier Randy Pullen stumped through Payson hopefully en route to the state treasurer’s office with an appearance before the Gila County Republican Party.
Pullen touted his long, financial background as a CPA and financial adviser, vowing to keep a close eye on the state’s $30 billion portfolio and cash flow — and urging the Legislature to make additional deep cuts in state spending.
“It’s going to be very tough to balance this budget over time,” said Pullen, citing among other things unfunded retirement system balances.
He’s running in a crowded but relatively unknown field for the Republican nomination for state treasurer. Other candidates include Jeff DeWit, president of a day-trading stock company, former Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and former Chandler City Councilman Martin Sepulveda. Incumbent Treasurer Doug Ducey is running for governor.
Pullen blamed most of the state’s financial problems in recent years on Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Republican lawmakers who went along with her budgets. Napolitano resigned to become director of Homeland Security just before the recession hit Arizona, reducing the state’s sales-tax-dependent revenues by nearly a third.
He said in 2006 Republicans “nearly lost control of the (state) House. Our majority got down to 33 — and let me tell you, they weren’t all conservative,” Pullen told the supportive crowd of Rim Country Republican activists. “Elections have consequences,” he added.
The Prescott High School graduate earned a math major at Arizona State University. Pullen trained as a CPA and became a partner in an accounting firm and in the 1990s formed his own firm. Among other things, he worked in the enormous effort to liquidate failed savings and loans, which took advantage of loose banking regulations to go on a speculative frenzy that all but wiped out the industry.
Pullen didn’t detail his extensive, sometimes controversial experience in state and national Republican politics. He served as both state party chair and National Party treasurer.
During his tenure with the national party, he had brushes with controversy concerning investigations of lavish expenditures and high fund-raising overhead as well as questions about funneling and bundling campaign contributions.
He ran for mayor of Phoenix, but lost to Democrat Phil Gordon.
He resolved to get out of politics, but “I got tired of throwing shoes at the TV” and decided that he had the “political experience and knowledge to be a leader.”
He said he also learned a lot when he worked through the Republican Party nationally to mobilize opposition to the comprehensive immigration reforms championed by President George W. Bush with the support of Arizona senators John McCain and Jon Kyl.
“I tried to explain to Kyl comprehensive immigration reform would explode in Arizona. We got thousands of letters. It was the first time that the Republican National Committee opposed the position of a sitting president.”
Ultimately, the pressure prompted several senators to shift their votes and killed the proposal, which would have included a path to citizenship for some 12 million people in the country illegally together with a version of a guest worker program and a big increase in spending on border security.
“When I take a position, I’ll fight to the end,” said Pullen.
Pullen said the state treasurer needs deep financial experience to manage the vast flow of state cash and investments. The state’s general fund under the control of the Legislature amounts to about $9 billion annually, but the state’s total revenues amount to $30 billion annually. On any given day, the state has about $13 billion invested — most of it committed for some purpose but gathering interest or investment revenue as it flows through the budget.
“First, we don’t want to lose money, then we need to ensure liquidity — then we need to get as high a return on investment as possible,” said Pullen.
He said the state needs to drive down taxes, balance the budget and cut spending, in order to attract business from other states.
He acknowledged that the quality of schools also attracts business and bolsters the state economy — and that Arizona remains close to last when it comes to per-student spending.
“We do have to deal with the education issue. We could be 49th (in per-student spending) or we could be a lot better. But we have a lot of people going to school here that don’t speak English and they don’t score well and we get chastised. Then they say we have to have more money, more money, more money ...”
“Don’t give it to them!” shouted someone from the audience.
“And we have more problems than the money,” Pullen concluded.