The race for treasurer is usually utterly devoid of flamethrowers and fireworks. Emphasis on usually.
Remember the last race between current Treasurer Dean Martin and opponent Rano Singh? Nobody else does either.
But this year's battle to be the state banker pits a young, high-profile Democrat who worked in the Clinton White House against a Republican businessman who boasts of building Cold Stone Creamery from a handful of stores to a chain that marched across international borders.
Democrat Andrei Cherny, an ex-prosecutor, has blasted former Cold Stone CEO Doug Ducey for a series of missteps that he says call into question Ducey's fitness for public office, from paying property taxes late to missing deadlines on corporate filings.
"This race is about whether we're going to have a treasurer who fights for people and who plays by the rules, or one who has an unfortunate history of breaking the rules," Cherny said.
Ducey countered with charges Cherny is launching a smear campaign. He's linked Cherny to President Obama, noting his opponent co-authored the book detailing the then-presidential candidate's vision for America. He has pitched this choice to voters: Do they want an Arizona businessman who is new to politics or a consummate Washington political insider?
At a unity rally in Tucson immediately after the primary election, Ducey touted his business experience. "I don't have any political resume to tell you about," Ducey said. "My entire adult life has been spent in the private sector." Noting he is an entrepreneurial fellow at the Eller School of Management at the University of Arizona, he added, "I want to take that and apply my finance degree and take a business approach" to state government.
Under his watch, he said, his Cold Stone company built 1,440 ice cream stores in all 50 states and 10 countries. "That's the kind of economy I like," he said. "That's the kind of economy Arizona deserves."
Cherny counters that Cold Stone's growth came at a price. He points to a CNNMoney.com analysis of Small Business Administration loans from October 2000 through September of last year, showing nearly one third of the company's franchisees defaulted on their loans - the second highest of any national franchise.
Ducey said "by anyone's standard of measurement, Cold Stone Creamery is an Arizona and American success story." He said he focused on communications with franchisees and there was plenty of help for those who needed it.
"Our vision was that the world would know us as the ultimate ice cream experience," Ducey said, adding businesses that sell discretionary or luxury items, such as ice cream, are hardest hit by economic doldrums.
Ducey has apologized for the late taxes, but said while the corporate filings also were late, that paperwork was handled by paralegals.
"Those never came to my desk," he said. "This is the sideshow my opponent likes to create rather than talking about qualifications and background and ideas."
Ducey said his goal is to be a "good and prudent manager of our state's investments." He aims to bring clarity to the state's finances, by finishing on the online spreadsheet incumbent Martin has begun, to show taxpayers how government is spending its money. But Ducey also believes in a more active business recruiting role for the office, by working with the governor and being an ambassador of sorts to new companies.
"I'm an entrepreneur. I know how business people think," Ducey said. "I see no reason the treasurer can't play a role, working with other elected leaders, on a plan to grow our economy and attract companies to Arizona."
Cherny sees an active economic development role. Pointing to the $1.5 billion in the state's education endowment, he said he would like to focus those investments on Arizona companies, provided they meet financial requirements and provide a safe rate of return.
If the state can invest in Exxon, for example, it also can invest in Arizona companies such as First Solar. Although Ducey says that sounds "risky," Cherny has been careful to say he's not talking about "social" investing or investing in start-ups, but would pursue giving local companies a boost if all things were equal.
Cherny pitches himself as the "taxpayer's bulldog," saying he will audit state agencies, as well as the legislature and the governor's office, to seek out fraud and waste. Ducey says that's an overreach and said it's unrealistic with the office's 30 employees.
The race includes Libertarian Thane Eichenauer, who said Republicans and Democrats have no intention of reducing the scope of government. Among the reductions he'd back: stop incarcerating drug users and cut back on university funding. While he acknowledges those areas fall under legislative purview, he said the treasurer could use his office as a bully pulpit.
He doesn't have any background in investment or banking, he said. "The best qualification in my mind is that I have a realistic viewpoint on government," he said, adding he would also consult with other experts in the field in running the office.
Green Party candidate Thomas Meadows did not return calls seeking comment.
Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or email@example.com