Renee Shaw: We begin our conversations with candidates in this year's general election. In today's program, you learn more about the Democratic and Republican nominees for Kentucky State treasurer. That's now on Connections.
Renee Shaw: Thank you for joining me for Connections today, I'm Renee Shaw. The Kentucky state treasurer essentially acts as the state's chief financial officer and handles the state's checkbook. All the money you pay in taxes goes through that office. The treasurer also sits on several boards and commissions, including the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System and the Kentucky Lottery. The Kentucky state treasurer is among the constitutional offices along with governor Kentuckians will decide in November. The current officeholder, Republican Allison Ball, is term limited. Democrat Michael Bowman and Republican Mark Metcalf are each hoping to replace her. Here's my conversation with Michael Bowman who’s sought this post before.
Democrat Michael Bowman
Renee Shaw: Mister Bowman. It's a pleasure to have you on the program today. We appreciate your time.
Michael Bowman: Thanks for inviting me. Thank you.
Renee Shaw: So tell me, we want to learn a little bit more about you. We’ll hear a lot more about your positions perhaps we have you on the Kentucky Tonight engagement. But tell us about you. I know you're a sixth generation Kentuckian as you've said on one of your videos on your website, and you come from a union home. So give us some more detail. You know, it's going to raise Valley station southwest Louisville.
Michael Bowman: Absolutely. You know, I was born and raised in Valley Station, southwest Louisville. I, uh, my father was a 40-year member of the Postal Workers Union. So you know, growing up, I had the experience in understanding what the union meant for a home like mine that it provided good paying jobs, benefits, things that could support a family, put food on the table, and a roof over your head. So that's why I'm always proud to say that and I'm proud of the work that my father did throughout his working, working life, who is now retired. He's enjoying his retirement. So, you know, that's my background and that's part of the reason why I take the positions that I do, uh, because of those experiences growing up. I went to holy Cross high school as well as the University of Louisville and worked for the governor as well as for the Louisville Metro Council and then some time as a bank officer and branch manager for, uh, US Bank.
Renee Shaw: So you can throw those Ls with ease?
Michael Bowman: Well, you know, I'm actually a Kentucky fan.
Renee Shaw: Are you a Kentucky fan?
Michael Bowman: I am. So, you know, born and raised in that respect as well. You know, I, I enjoyed my time at U of L, but still very hard core bleeding blue.
Renee Shaw: OK, all right, we’ll leave that there because hat could be a pretty divisive discussion on its own.
Michael Bowman: Absolutely.
Renee Shaw: Well this is not your first foray into running for statewide office and you’ve also run in Jefferson County as well. So tell us why at this time in your life and then times you've run before, that being in public service in an elected office is important to you?
Michael Bowman: Well, I think it's, it's the quality of, of the individuals that are stepping up. We've seen, I think, some people who have obtained elected office through a, a variety of, I hate to say it, luck that are just honestly not prepared and are unqualified for the jobs that they have. And, you know, my background’s unique in that I've worked in local government, I’ve worked in state government as well as in the private sector as a bank officer for a large financial institution, so I have a lot of skills that I can bring to bear on, in particular, the treasurer's office is what comes to what I'm seeking now. You know, four years ago, I contended I was the most qualified person. Unfortunately, the people of Kentucky chose to remain with, with the current treasurer. But I still contend today that I am the most qualified person, in fact, would be the first in nearly 40 years elected to the job that has any type of financial experience. So I think that's going to be important as we look forward. And that's what's in the back of my mind is where are we moving as a commonwealth? What do we need for the moment? And can I, can I do anything to help in that? And I, I believe I can.
Renee Shaw: Oftentimes what we call down-ballot constitutional officers, they express themselves about issues that particularly may not be related to the duties of the office for which they are applying, right? And you said that's the, the leaders now in Frankfort, which majority Republican are putting quote “the wrong thing first.” And you say it's time for that to end. What would you be able to do if you're elected to state, as state treasurer to undo what you see as the wrong things those leaders are doing.
Michael Bowman: Certainly. You know, I think if Governor Beshear has shown us what that looks like. He is not quick to be drawn into cultural issues, debates, or debates, honestly, about basic human rights that shouldn't be debatable. He focuses on what's important: creating jobs for Kentucky, ensuring that we are educating our next generation and our children, and that we're doing the right things by keeping our promises to people like our teachers, our state workers, our, our first responders. Those are the things that, at the end of the day, I believe is what is most important to people in Kentucky. And if we focus on that and we don't get drawn into these unnecessary debates and we can actually come together and build consensus, tat's how we move things forward. You know, I would be a unique position as treasurer, one of only seven people elected statewide for state government, and that gives me a position to be able to talk about that, whether it's in Louisville, Lexington, or in Pike County or Fulton County. So that's I think how we get past these they're looking at the wrong things, as I’ve stated, and moving us towards paying attention to what's important, and that's jobs, our, our families, making sure we have people that are being educated properly, and that we’re moving Kentucky in that direction.
Renee Shaw: Many people would say that, yes, those issues are important. We call them sometimes the bread and butter, the table, the kitchen table conversations, right? But also that there are issues like abortion and the some of the transgender issues that have come to the fore of late are also important to many Kentuckians who feel perhaps maybe differently than you and your ticket feel, the, those who are running this year under the Democratic Party. So is the Democratic Party out of step with what, a, the majority of Kentuckians want to have focused on?
Michael Bowman: Well, I'm not going to be to the party as a whole. I can speak for myself as far as I've been endorsed by organizations like Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood, which has, you know, everyone knows, been at the forefront of ensuring that women reproductive, women's reproductive health is being protected, as well as the fairness campaign and ensuring that LGBTQ rights are being respected. And those are, those are issues that when they come up, I am ready to defend my positions and ensure that we as a government are doing the right things for those people. But that shouldn't be our focus. Our focus should be what's important to, to people in terms of jobs, in terms of ensuring that they have what they need, the education that they're receiving. And I'm not saying that they’re not interconnected in some ways and in a lot of ways they are. But when we focus on those things and not those, those culture issues, those what, again, and I’m not trying to categorize them all in one as calling them a culture war, but when we're talking about those issues like human rights and LGBTQ rights and women's, that shouldn't be up for the government to decide, it should be the individuals that they have, , that they should be able to exercise those rights as people.
They have every constitutional right as anyone else. So they need jobs. We need education. And that's what the focus should be. When we do those things and we can build consensus in and take us ourselves out of that culture war, I think that's where we'll be able to move Kentucky forward in a positive way. And again, like I said, the governor has shown that he's not going to be drawn into that. And, yeah, I believe that's the best way to go.
Renee Shaw: When you travel the state, I know you're probably doing that extensively. You probably have somewhere to go after you finish with the with us.
Michael Bowman: Absolutely.
Renee Shaw: Do people understand the office of state treasurer?
Mark Metcalf: You know, by and large, there are some that do There are quite a few people who, they, they, they know what the word treasure would generally mean when it comes to their PTA or social clubs. But it is something that we do have to explain more often than not. And how in-depth it goes, I believe, is something that a lot of people don't realize is. It's not just about balancing the checkbook. It's about ensuring that we're having, providing that independent accountability for our tax dollars. And, you know, the treasure sits on a variety of boards and commissions: The lottery board, the Higher Education Authority, the, the Financial Commission, as well as the investment commission ,and the Teachers Retirement Board, which are, as we know, been critical over the last few years in terms of how we are dealing with policy around the teachers’ pensions, how we’re investing our money, and that's where the treasure can have an outsized influence. And I think that's where once people realize how deep the treasure, the treasurer's office writ large is involved in those decisions is when they realize it's, it's an important office that needs to be independently elected. We don't want to wrap it up in the bureaucracy. We want to ensure that they are being held accountable to the people directly rather than, you know, at the whim of a governor or a legislature.
Renee Shaw: And you hit on a point that has been a point of contention about whether or not that the state treasurer's office should be even an elected one, right? Do you, you, it seems that you are intimating that it needs to remain as it is.
Michael Bowman: Absolutely. Again it comes down to who, who should be accountable to the people for your tax dollars and an independently elected person ensures that a governor doesn't have the unchecked a bureaucratic, you know, leverage that, to manage their, the tax dollars like that, and just as well as the legislature. We keep it independent for that very reason. There's, there's a variety of history as to why we did that. You know, before the Constitution was amended in the, the late 1800s, it was an appointed position by the governor. So we made it elected for a reason, a very particular reason, and I believe that still holds true today. I would rather have more accountability that's, that's directly influenced by the people of Kentucky than not. And I think that's why the treasure’s job should remain elected.
Renee Shaw: The other responsibilities that you listed about the number of boards that the state treasurer serves on, unclaimed property is probably one thing that a lot of Kentucky citizen, citizens understand or have connected to or know about in some way because perhaps they have benefited from that. And we know that the current treasurer, who is a Republican, Allison Ball, has had record setting levels of unclaimed property being restored, monetarily or otherwise, to Kentuckians. This is the lost and found, if you will. A lot of people applaud that program. Do you think it needs changing in any way and would you give her kudos for the job she's done in handling that particular part of the job?
Michael Bowman: I would say that, yes, there are ways to improve that, that program. I think that, you know, given technology being what it is today, there are certainly ways that we can make it intuitive, more easily accessible, and less cumbersome. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people about the unclaimed property process is that it is overly cumbersome and I think that, again, with technology being what it is, there is no reason why we can't do that. And the, and the, the unclaimed property fund itself is a source of the revenue to be able to implement those changes without really tapping into General Fund dollars. So those are, those are things that in a, in a Bowman administration in the treasurer's office would be something that we would, we would tackle. You know, I think that since the treasure has been responsible for unclaimed property, we've seen the fund itself grow from Treasurer Miller's $200, roughly $200 million to now it sits at around $800 million as a fund. So, I think it's, yes, I'll give each treasure their due for, for maintaining that program and expanding the knowledge of it. But I think there is a process ways that we can improve. You know, having worked in a large financial institution and understanding, you know, how we maintain records and keep track of this type of, of stuff that should be easy to do with technology. And that's where I would focus ensuring that we can, and bringing the treasurer's office out to the state. I think that's something that has been, not been done well, is that going into these communities across Kentucky and ensuring that they know and understand what the treasure does and the services that the treasurer's office would provide.
Renee Shaw: How optimistic are you the second time around? You still have the same candidate at the top of the ticket who may not have as a deep coattails as perhaps you'd like, if you think that even has power to bring you into victory. Why do you think this time could be different?
Michael Bowman: Well, I think there is a difference in the person at the top of the ticket this time around in terms of he's not the challenger. He is the incumbent. And not only is he the incumbent, he is a remarkably popular incumbent. And I think there is a desire to send him the help in Frankfort that he needs to be able to, to continue for four more years. So while there may not have been coattails four years ago, it's certainly possible that he has those now. But I'm not relying on that. I'm getting out across the state. We're doing our job putting that, as you said, the shoe leather to the pavement and getting it in front of those people and letting them know why I'm more qualified than my opponent. And why can lead this office and be a good partner with the governor for the next four years to ensure that we're doing the right things for Kentucky.
Renee Shaw: Well, Michael Bowmen, thank you so much. It's been pleasure sitting down and speaking with you.
Michael Bowman: Thank you, Renee. I appreciate it.
Renee Shaw: Stay with us on Connections as we next hear from Republican nominee for state treasurer Mark Metcalf, who's had a careers as a prosecutor and holds the rank of lieutenant colonel and the U.S. Army Reserve.
Republican Mark Metcalf
Renee Shaw: Mark Metcalf, thank you so much for being with us today. We appreciate some time.
Mark Metcalf: It's an honor and a privilege. Thank you.
Renee Shaw: So, you're running for one of the constitutional offices, state treasurer and we'll get to why in a moment, but let's talk a little bit about you and your background and where you come from and your lived experience that can inform how you would operate that office if you're so selected. Tell us about yourself.
Mark Metcalf: Well, Renee, thanks for the question. I'm a native of Garrard County. I’ve served as county attorney for 22 years. I've served as assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for 3 years, and I was in the Kentucky Army National Guard for 29 years. I’m, uh, a veteran of Iraq and over the course of my career we focused, as you would expect. in the guard we focused on the soldier. In the county attorney's office, we focus on the private individual and it's not just about prosecution. It's about helping families, child support, or as the case may be with the addicted, making sure that they get into rehab and hopefully I can redeem their lives that way. But it’s, ah, county attorney's offices are full-service prosecution offices that look at the individual as well as their circumstances in order to serve them better.
Renee Shaw: Right, and many people may not make that assumption when they hear about a prosecutorial role such as the county attorney –
Mark Metcalf: Right.
Renee Shaw: -- That they think very much of law and order and not trying to help people with wraparound services, as we often hear them called. So, it's interesting to hear you define the position as such.
Mark Metcalf: I think wraparound is the probably the best adjective I’ve heard. It’s, uh, it’s the kind of office where you can do more good in the morning that many attorneys can do a in a year. When you look at the needs that people bring to the county attorney's offices that have to do with, as I said, drug addiction, uh, with, uh, being victims, uh, and also with the child support issues, you're talking about the kinds of services that bring to fine point being able to help people with their lives. And when you're talking about child support in particular, you're talking about the difference between a family being able to make ends meet to versus not being able to.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. We were talking before we started taping about helping children who are vulnerable in order to have them have food for the weekend. And you and your wife are very involved in that and your, your military background also informs that activity as well. Talk about why that's so important in your view.
Mark Metcalf: Well, Renee, I, I appreciate you bringing that up because it's an important aspect of what the Kentucky Army National Guard does. When you think of soldiers, you think of war and the Kentucky Army National Guard is a medium-size guard in a small state that time deploys everywhere and is very busy all the time. But the other side of the story is that we are in every place where there's a disaster.
Renee Shaw: Right
Mark Metcalf: In 2009, my unit was activated and we came from all the several states, you know, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, where our members live and Kentucky, and we were delivering meals to Kentuckians who did not have water, didn’t have a food, and all of us from the top down we're handing food out to people in western Kentucky, in particular. The wind storms in Mayfield, Graves, County and the water in Breathitt County and the eastern Kentucky counties most impacted by the flooding, the guard is there.
Renee Shaw: Right, and we saw that heroic footage, right, of folks being airlifted from what could have been their demise and their death, those flood waters, right? I mean, being lifted up and rescued. I mean it was remarkable and it got attention from U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who talked about the bravery and the commitment of the Kentucky Air National Guard and others who served to help people in these intense times of crisis.
Mark Metcalf: Right. The Air National Guard, can’t leave that out. They're also ready at the call. Also keep in mind that when we talk about drug interdiction, it’s your, it's your Kentucky Army National and Kentucky Air National Guard, which drops federal assets, meaning FBI, DEA, and Kentucky State police on the grow fields that are now coming up in the Washington National Forest, the Jefferson National Forest, Smoky Mountain National Forest, and the Daniel Boone National Forest. So, we're big into law enforcement in those areas. And there, those are overlooked missions. As I said, you think of soldiers when you think of the guard and it's not always that all.
Renee Shaw: Yeah. I know your experience also lends you to have a lot of interaction and probably even expertise when it comes to the drug scourge in this state and in this nation. And it seems like somewhat of an intractable problem. We make some progress and then we, it kind of ebbs and flows. What do you think, and this is not necessarily something that the state treasurer takes on, but do you, how do you view this is one of the big issues and concerns facing Kentuckians.
Mark Metcalf: First of all, again, it’s about people. The most important thing we can do is create an environment where people can earn and save and not be a dependent on the on the assets of government. But if so, the government is there to act decisively to Kentuckians and help Americans. The most important thing that I can tell you about the treasurer's office is that it has a large role in making certain that our children have fiscal knowledge so they can begin their lives, being able to open up a checking account, being able to balance that checking account, understanding that to start a business it's more than just putting a shingle on the door. But, let's talk, uh, the retirement funds of Kentucky. You’ve heard me say that I'm pushing back against the ESG movement –
Renee Shaw: Which stands for --
Mark Metcalf: Environments, social, and governmental. It is an effort, as I think of it, by the left to basically commandeer the assets contained in our retirement funds and direct them towards green technologies, solely. And we know that in Kentucky we have tremendous coal. We have 8,500 years of unmined coal in the United States, a lot of which is located in eastern Kentucky. We have miners ready to go to work. Coal is 30 times cleaner than it was 10 years ago because it can be mined more cleanly and effectively and efficiently, but it can also be burned also in a way that has much less impact on the environment. So what we need to be doing is, is leveraging those assets to create wealth in Kentucky so that our people are, are dependent only on the hand at the end of their own sleeve and not upon government. And, my, my role as treasure is to advance that viewpoint and make certain that all our people, especially those in need, but also the taxpayers who take care of those in need are dignified by government. And that we have, and that they have in, in, in my candidacy a man who will go out and advocate on behalf of taxpayers to cut the budgets where, where we find the waste and to do the things that I think of as being sort of common sensical but when you look at it we have a $16 billion direct debt of Kentucky’s, of Kentucky's taxpayers. That's a $20,000 debt on every taxpayer in Kentucky. So how do we lower that? Well, we have 27,000 people that still haven't come off the welfare rolls. When you get them off the welfare rolls and they you put them into productive employment, that means more people to pay down the debts of Kentucky. But it also means more taxpayers. It means more people who can live on their own and not depend upon others. And so what I'm interested in doing is taking that message forward.
Renee Shaw: When you talk about the state budget and the debts of Kentucky, do you believe there's more than just public assistance programs that need revision and reform? Do you see and have evidence of widespread waste, fraud, or abuse in other the state government agencies and departments.
Mark Metcalf: Well, I see this as a top-down effort, working with the auditor, working with the assets, the great people in the auditor's office and in the treasurer's office, and in every major department of state government finding waste in getting rid of it, starting with the smallest programs up to the largest. One of the things we can do immediately is to say if you're going to be on welfare, we're going to require that you engage in public interest work, you know: Help cleaning up a park, help sitting, helping out at a daycare.
These are the kinds of things that people can do besides just looking for work. If you're going to take from the public, you should be willing to give back to the public, and I think that that’s, we don't need to lose sight of that. The, the whole idea of welfare as we know it today is to make certain that people have that safety net so they don't go without, but also to ask from them while they're receiving those funds to do something to give back to their community.
Renee Shaw: I want to go back to why you're running for this office. What was the reason and was there a particular moment in time when it ignited the clarification that this is the path I should next take?
Mark Metcalf: Thank you. It was a tough decision. I love my job, uh, but I thought that with what I saw in the ESG movement coming out against coal. One of the things that the, the, the left as I perceive them is doing is saying that there, we should not have fossil fuels at all. But it’s fossil fuels that have created the cheapest energy on the planet to be able to power businesses and homes, and to look at the fact that, uh, in western Kentucky just this year, we had rolling blackouts from TVA. And in eastern Kentucky we’re mining more coal than we can use in Kentucky and where is that coal going? Well, in, in, in some of the coal in Harlan County is, is going two places. One is going to, it's foundry coal and the Chinese are buying it. But the North Carolinians are buying it, too, because the green technologies failed in both western Kentucky and in eastern Kentucky, excuse me, and in North Carolina. And so now that North Carolina is buying Kentucky coal to power those plants that they wound down when they tried to replace coal and natural, natural gas with green technologies. It just doesn't work yet and may not for a long time to come. We need to keep in mind that the ESG movement, which is hostile to fossil fuels, has a component and that component is found in China that manufacturers many of the solar panels and their manner of manufacturing releases more carbon into the atmosphere than mining coal and burning coal does.
Renee Shaw: Many people would say that sounds like a stretch for the office of the state treasurer to be involved in. It seems like that would be underneath a different environment or a different cabinet-level position, energy, environment or something else. Can you make that makes sense to the viewer at home?
Mark Metcalf: Sure. The state treasurer of Kentucky is mandated to report to the General Assembly about those businesses that are discriminating against fossil fuels. If I'm going to be active in advocating what some of the things that Kentucky does best, which is produce energy, then I'll be asking Kentuckians to take a second look at these ESG movements that diminish the importance of fossil fuels, not just in, not just in powering Kentucky but in powering the United States. And the other thing to keep in mind is because many of the utilities in Kentucky are trying to make that transition solely to green technologies, the biggest impact has been felt in eastern Kentucky, where the cost of electric utilities has gone up 18 percent this year.
Renee Shaw: Well, thank you, Mister Mark Metcalf. It's been a pleasure to sit with you on that side of the studio. We appreciate your time. Thank you.
Mark Metcalf: Thank you, Renee.
Renee Shaw: Thank you for joining us today. KET’s Kentucky Tonight will have the candidates in the statewide constitutional contests debate the issues and the races for the offices they seek. Make sure you tune each Monday night in October at 8 Eastern, 7 Central for that. And join me next week on Connections as we talk to the candidates running for state auditor. You can always connect with me all the ways you see on your screen and in the meantime, you take good care and I'll see you soon.