Big man got the money

State treasurers
By AL DIAMON  |  June 15, 2011

Until now, being state treasurer was like being a septic tank.

Both attract attention only when something goes wrong.

For instance, Democrat Sam Shapiro, who held the treasurer's job from 1980 to 1997, began giving off an offensive odor in 1992, after it was discovered he was operating a political-action committee that solicited contributions from financial companies doing business with his office. In one of the worst explanations ever offered by a politician not named Anthony Weiner, Shapiro told the Bangor Daily News, "I get money from practically every firm on [Wall] Street, so nobody gets preference."

Under pressure from his fellow Dems, Shapiro eventually agreed to stop twisting the arms of bankers and bond brokers. He was then handily re-elected to the post, which is filled every two years by the majority party in the Legislature.

Shapiro was succeeded in office by Dale McCormick, an unsuccessful Democratic congressional candidate, who issued press releases about the connection between investments and global warming, encouraged shareholder activism against companies with poor environmental records, and sunk a lot of state money into the government housing market and student loans, all to decidedly mixed results.

McCormick sent out more press releases than Shapiro, but got in less trouble.

In 2005, David Lemoine won the job on the strength of a resume that included stints as a Democratic state representative and a small-town lawyer. Within two years, Lemoine had managed to lose $20 million of the taxpayers' money by sinking it into a fund backed by subprime mortgages.

His excuse: bad advice from the experts. Those experts eventually repaid the money, although the state lost a year's worth of interest, not an insignificant sum.

That brings us to Bruce Poliquin, chosen for the treasurer's job in 2010, after Republicans took control of the Legislature. Poliquin was a failed gubernatorial candidate (he spent more per vote than anyone else, but ended up sixth out of seven in the primary field), a developer and a former partner in an asset-management firm. So, unlike every other Maine treasurer in last three decades, he's actually sort of qualified for the job.

He also has political ambitions aimed at getting elected to some more important post.

To that end, Poliquin, like a septic tank with a root blockage, hasn't been shy about calling attention to himself. His press-release output makes McCormick look like a recluse. Since taking office, he's attempted to insert himself in many areas where the treasurer hasn't traditionally been involved. He tried to pass a bill that would have given him control over all the state's tax-exempt bonds, but that idea went nowhere in the Legislature. He's launched a seemingly unending campaign to reduce the "unsustainable" debt in the state retirement system. He's on Facebook. He's on YouTube. He's got a blog.

All of which is raising his profile.

As one of the most boring people in Maine.

Poliquin likes to use phrases like "dampening cash flow" when he means costing money. He doesn't consider it repetitive to refer to "our fiscal and economic reality." And he's so in love with his stump speech on the pension system that he has it posted in at least three different places on his blog.

Which is not to say that Poliquin is nothing but a showboating blowhard obsessed with his future electability. I mean, he's all that, but occasionally, he's also right.

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