Tobias Read State Treasurer – Candidate Interview
Tobias Read is Oregon’s current State Treasurer. In our state, the Treasurer is a constitutional officer within the executive branch and is elected for a four-year term. Now up for re-election, Mr. Read took some time out to be interviewed by the Washington County Democrats.
WCD: So, in 1997 you got a bachelor’s from Willamette University and then went on to earn your MBA. With that kind of education, you certainly had a lot of options. For instance, you worked for Nike for several years. Why didn’t you stay in the corporate world? The private sector tends to pay a lot better than the public, so what motivated you to run for office?
Read: Well, I’m not motivated solely by compensation. I feel I have some responsibility and a debt to repay. My parents made it very clear that because we benefit from the investments of people who came before us, we all should try to make contributions to the people who follow us. And, honestly, I really enjoy making a difference in people’s lives.
WCD: I understand, and it seems you’ve done a lot to, as you say, pay it forward. For instance, as State Treasurer, you’ve implemented the first in the nation, state-based, retirement savings program, called “Oregon Saves.” In layman’s terms, exactly how does it work?
Read: Oregon Saves is a response to a problem that has existed for a long time. About half of Oregonians have jobs where saving for retirement simply wasn’t an option. This forces difficult choices for individuals. Should they retire, or keep working despite age and health issues? Down the road, this can also create a burden on the state budget. Oregon Saves removes barriers to saving for the future. The law we passed says if an employer does not offer a retirement plan, they MUST offer Oregon Saves. And nudges like that can make a real difference. So far, Oregonians have saved over $65 million! That’s a hugely empowering thing for people who have been left out of the financial mainstream. They often say, “I’ve got a future now. I can get ahead.”
WCD: Sounds like a great program. Did you encounter a lot of resistance in creating Oregon Saves?
Read: There was some opposition. Some people saw it as a threat. I think they were rather short-sighted because in the long run we’re creating their future customers; namely, people who might want their services. We also struggled sometimes with people who thought retirement savings is not an appropriate role for government. But, when you think about it, someone who has more of their own resources has less need of state resources, so Oregon Saves helps keep government small anyway.
WCD: I can see that. Now, the Treasurer sits on the Oregon Investment Council and State Land Board, oversees public investing, as well as banking, bonding and financial empowerment programs. That’s quite a diverse portfolio. Do you often have to struggle with competing interests within those realms?
Read: I struggle only in the sense that they are all very interesting to me and all represent a great investment in Oregon’s future. It’s also why I love the job and find it exciting. All of these things are connected, and I enjoy bringing the whole thing together.
WCD: These are, of course, hyper-partisan times. But many see the State Treasurer as a non-partisan role. How do you approach the job?
Read: I try to keep my orientation toward the long run. Most of the decisions we make are not partisan. But, I’m a Democrat and that informs the approach I take as Treasurer. Retirement for instance requires a long-run vision. We also need to be prepared for economic disruptions due to climate change. And we, in state government, can support a long-term approach because we’re a large long-run investor. That gives us the ability to influence good behavior. That’s the approach I like to take into this office.
WCD: In 2016, you ran against Jeff Gudman, a graduate of Trump’s Alma-matter, the Wharton School of Business. He’s never held state office but has given a rather harsh critique of you. In a recent op-ed, he says, “…we need to confront challenges openly. Mr. Read does not publicly speak to hard truths and painful steps.” Would you like to give a response to that?
Read: Here’s what I know. Over the last four years I’ve been focused on doing my job, overseeing the launch Oregon Saves, our college savings program, and one of the country’s top-performing pension systems. I suppose Mr. Gudman had to say something, he is running for office. But I’m busy looking out for our credit rating and how we continue to deliver strong returns on the investments. Frankly, I’m actually too focused on doing my job to worry about what my opponent is saying.
WCD: I get that. Of course, these are hard times too; with the economic downturn affecting thousands of Oregonians and Covid-19 still very much a problem. How do you intend to help Oregonians through this trying time as State Treasurer?
Read: These are challenging times – that’s true. I think our state’s portfolios are in a strong position, and I intend to keep improving on our programs. Thankfully, we do have an emergency fund. We are thinking about these programs differently since Covid, but we are still working to help people of all income levels to retire safely, go to college, and improve their financial resilience. We have a role in giving people access to tools they need to make it through. And we remain an important partner for the rest of State Government as they navigate through difficult decisions.
WCD: Thank you. Before we finish, is there anything you wish I had asked?
Read: I want to finish by speaking to how important it is to vote down-ballot. We have three statewide offices up for election this year and numerous other local offices that people are running for. All of these positions will impact the future direction of our state. In this election, a lot is on the line for both Oregon and the nation. Please vote the entire ballot and tell your friends and neighbors.
WCD: Sounds like good advice. Thank you, Mr. Read, and good luck this November.
Read: Thanks for the conversation.
Learn more about Tobias Read, Democratic Candidate for State Treasurer, at his campaign website.