Monday, May 24, 1999

Candidates for treasurer both activists

Democrats want office to do more

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Whatever it is that the Kentucky state treasurer does, the candidates running for the office in Tuesday's statewide Democratic primary want it to be more.

        Lexington attorney Jonathan Miller and Louisville lawmaker Rep. Susan Johns are each proposing changes to a constitutional office that despite its name does not oversee the state's money.

        “It's not a know-nothing job,” said Ms. Johns, 44, a corporate real estate adviser and former bank vice president. “I think it's important.”

        Mr. Miller, 31, who ran unsuccessfully last year for Congress and served on Vice President Al Gore's staff, said the office has been underused in recent years.

        “The office could do so much more, and it will if I'm elected,” he said.

        With no Republican primary for the office, the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary will be the state's new treasurer and will be sworn into office in December.

        Incumbent Treasurer John Kennedy Hamilton, a Democrat who has faced a score of

        personal and legal problems while in office, is not seeking re-election.

        The state treasurer does not handle the state's finances. That is done by bureaucrats in the Finance and Revenue cabinets, with oversight from the legislature and the administration.

        The treasurer does write all state checks, keep tabs on unclaimed money and assets in private bank accounts, and enforces and implements the court-ordered garnishment of wages of state employees.

        Both candidates said they want to expand the duties of the treasurer — who earns $82,520 a year and has a budget of $2.5 million and a staff of 42.

        Ms. Johns said if elected, she wants to serve on the state's workers' compensation and employee retirement boards, hoping to improve Kentucky's return on its investments.

        The treasurer also sits as a voting member of the State Lottery Board. Both candidates said the lottery should return more money to the state.

        “The efficiency of the lottery needs to be improved,” Mr. Miller said. “We do that, and we get a better return for the taxpayers and more money for education.”

        Mr. Miller has also proposed starting a pre-paid college tuition savings program by which parents could invest and save money for their children's college costs.

        “Nineteen other states have these programs, and they have been really successful in helping working families with what has become a major expense in most households,” said Mr. Miller.

        Neither candidate is very warm to allowing casino gambling in Kentucky.

        Ms. Johns said people in her legislative district don't want it, but that voters should decide at the ballot box.

        The issue needs more study, Mr. Miller said, and should be left up to the voters.

        Mr. Miller expects to spend about $400,000 on the race and has raised far more money that Ms. Johns, who has raised about $50,000.

        “This race is about the haves and have-nots,” Ms. Johns said. “I have not the money Mr. Miller has, but I have the experience and the heart.”

        The race has gotten increasingly nasty.

        Ms. Johns has been critical of Mr. Miller because he is supported by Mr. Hamilton. In an May 11 televised debate, Ms. Johns called Mr. Hamilton an “abomination” and “an embarrassment.”

        She has also accused Mr. Miller of relying too much on campaign money from out-of-state contributors.

        Meanwhile, Mr. Miller has used his money advantage to run ads against Ms. Johns.

        The most recent commercial accuses Ms. Johns of accepting campaign contributions from opponents of a bill to regulate check-cashing services and then voting against the bill.

        The spot also goes back 14 years and tries to tie Ms. Johns to disgraced former Superintendent of Public Instruction Alice McDonald. Ms. Johns worked in the Department of Education when Ms. McDonald was superintendent. A minor scandal over printing done for Ms. McDonald personally took place without her knowledge or acquiescence, Ms. Johns said.

        Ms. Johns said she has resisted the temptation to sink to Mr. Miller's campaign tactics. “I could stand up here and say 10 negative things about Jonathan Miller,” she said.

        Mr. Miller also filed a formal complaint with state election officials accusing Ms. Johns of not showing expenses or salaries of her political staff on campaign finance reports.

        Ms. Johns said the reports are accurate and called Mr. Miller's charges childish and immature.

        Neither candidate has done much campaigning or fund raising in Northern Kentucky.

        “I've received nothing at all from either of them, not even a piece of campaign material or a letter,” said Campbell County Clerk Jack Snodgrass, one of the county's leading Democrats.

        “It's kind of strange. As far as up here in this part of the state, that race has been real quiet,” he said.

        “I did get a letter from Susan Johns,” said another Democrat, Kenton County Clerk Bill Aylor. “But it was just about her service in the state legislature. That's the only thing I've seen out of this race.”

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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