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eric olson

Olson

Two candidates are challenging incumbent Kelly Schmidt for the office of state treasurer in the November election. Both Democratic candidate Tim Mathern, of the Dem-NPL, and Eric Olson, a Libertarian, support eliminating the office.

Kelly Schmidt, Republican

Republican State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt says her experience working closely with local government and the people are strengths in her bid for a fourth term.

Schmidt was first elected state treasurer in 2004. Since then, the cost of the office’s operations has increased by 1 percent, according to Schmidt, who says she has worked to improve efficiencies in the office and implemented a new software system to handle tax distributions.

“I think the people of North Dakota recognize that we’ve done well,” she said of her office. 

On the campaign trail, she said the main issues of concern from people are the state budget and the North Dakota Legacy Fund, which was approved by voters in 2010. Thirty percent of all oil and gas production and extraction tax revenue go into the Legacy Fund, which can’t be accessed until June 30. 

Schmidt this spring asked for an attorney general’s opinion on whether the earnings to date would be accessible through a simple majority vote of the Legislative Assembly or be considered principal and require a two-thirds vote.

“It will be some interesting discussions,” Schmidt said of the next session.

She has dismissed abolishing the office as campaign rhetoric. 

Tim Mathern, Dem-NPL

Longtime Dem-NPL Sen. Tim Mathern, of Fargo, is challenging Schmidt with the goal of eliminating the office and transferring its functions to other agencies.

Mathern, elected to the state Senate in 1986, said he would introduce an agency bill to do so if elected. He said the treasurer’s office is one of the smaller state agencies, and he considers the office redundant.

“This seemed the opportune time to actually make a systemic change,” Mathern said. “People (are) intrigued by an actual idea behind ‘let’s cut government.’”

Functions could be divided between the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget and the Bank of North Dakota, he said.

If elected and if his bill is passed by lawmakers, Mathern said the treasurer would remain in office until the transition is complete. The remaining staff could move on to other agencies and fill open positions that fit their skill sets.

“When you are in a tough position, you have to make cuts. You have to hack out a piece,” said Mathern, who indicated that having a Democrat willing to get rid of the office could entice Republicans to move on the idea.

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Eric Olson, Libertarian

Transparency and improving processes of the office of state treasurer are the main reasons Libertarian Party candidate Eric Olson says he is running.

Olson, a small business owner in Fargo, said he wishes to improve, if elected, is accessibility to information on the agency’s website. He said it’s difficult to track data on various state funds.

“It doesn’t say where the money’s going. I think the office could do a lot better job on sharing that information,” said Olson, adding that his main goal in office would be to improve transparency. 

“I can definitely write checks,” he said, pointing out that the office is not complex to operate.

Olson said he agrees the treasurer’s office should be eliminated to avoid duplication of services.

His level of campaigning was somewhat minimal over the summer because he has been working to support Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, according to Olson. 

“It’s difficult to get people to get interested in the smaller offices,” he said.

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(Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

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