Tulsa’s Howard Barnett Hopes to Become State Treasurer
By DAVID LLOYD JONES
Looking Forward: Howard Barnett, candidate for Oklahoma’s next State Treasurer, will soon face incumbent Scott Meachem after defeating Dan Keating, twin brother of former Oklahoma Govenor Frank Keating by a 60-40 margin.
SHARON CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
Howard Barnett wants to be Oklahoma’s next state treasurer.
The Tulsa native is halfway there, although the path to the midpoint crossed some unusual territory.
Barnett found himself running against Dan Keating, twin brother of former Oklahoma Govenor Frank Keating. Presumably Keating would have supported his brother, but when he had needed a chief of staff for the last three and a half years of his governorship he had turned to his good friend Howard Barnett. In the primary battle of two men about as close to Keating as you can get, the former governor stayed neutral and Barnett won by a 60-40 margin. Barnett will now face the incumbent treasurer, Scott Meachem.
Surprisingly, Barnett has some nice things to say about his opponent.
“When Robert Butkin was elected State Treasurer in 1994 he entered an office that had seen several of its employees jailed over a period of years. Robert hired people of integrity to make sure the people’s money was handled the way it should be. Scott, to his credit, has continued that tradition.”
So why is Barnett running?
“I think the Treasurer’s office can be much more than it has been. We have fiscal issues that aren’t being addressed.
“The best example is the state’s pension systems. We are about $10 billion underfunded and that debt has to be dealt with or we will have a real financial crisis. Nobody talks about it because it is difficult to address and will take a long term plan. It’s a tough problem and in a term-limit legislature where a person can only serve 12 years, no one wants to take it on. Solving the problem is going to be very difficult.”
Barnett feels he has the background to tackle such problematic issues. The son of Howard G. Barnett, long-time president of Brookside State Bank, Barnett was first a lawyer, then president of the Tulsa Tribune and finally president and chief executive officer of TSF Communications. He has served as chairman of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. He is now managing director of TSF Capital LLC, a financial firm offering investment and advisory services.
With Govenor Keating he also served as Secretary of Commerce and Director of the Department of Commerce. “As chief of staff I was really a chief advisor and helped develop and manage the Governor’s agenda.
“I enjoyed my time in public service. I have a unique background in both business and government and I think that’s going to prove very helpful.
“I also enjoyed working with the state employees. I know everybody likes to sneer at the bureaucracy but there are a lot of highly dedicated people in state government who somehow make the whole thing work.”
One thing Barnett says he will add to the Treasurer’s office is a spirit of independence.
“When Robert Butkin left the Treasurer’s office to go to the University of Tulsa, Govenor Brad Henry appointed his old friend Scott Meacham to take Robert’s place. Scott works for the Governor and is anything but independent. He cannot, or will not, use the power of the Treasurer’s office to be an independent voice on fiscal matters. Why does our state constitution set up an independent treasurer if he continues to work for the governor?”
Barnett sees the Treasurer’s job as pushing, cajoling and encouraging. “A treasurer is uniquely qualified to mount the bully pulpit on fiscal and investment issues.
“For example, one of the Treasurer’s jobs is to overlook the state’s college payment plan. We should look at the investment choices we are offering. I think we need to consider a more diversified plan for these funds.
“Scott hasn’t had a record of making good estimates. As director of the Office of State Finance (the executive branch’s budgetary arm) he came up with a number of revenue projections on such things as the lottery, casino gaming and the tobacco tax. The voters relied on these flawed projections in approving these schemes which just haven’t panned out.”
Any race against an incumbent is difficult but, as Barnett laughingly told a reporter, “I’ve won a statewide race and Scott hasn’t.” Remember, Meacham was appointed, not elected.
Now he’s about to hit the campaign trail again, and his early state travels for the primary have given him some insights.
“A secondary race, like Treasurer, often draws little interest. For the most part we were ignored by the Tulsa World and the Daily Oklahoman, but go into a town like Alva and you can get full coverage with lots of lengthy stories in the local papers. Talking to the people in those towns is a wonderful way to spread the word.”
There is a lot of talk this year that the various candidates for lieutenant-governor are really positioning themselves for a race for the top job four years hence when term limits will force Brad Henry from office. Does Barnett see himself in that mix?
“Believe me, I have no desire to be governor. I saw what Frank Keating had to go through with all the ceremonial duties and I have no wish to be part of that.”
Does he have a secret campaign weapon?
“I take my dog Sooner, a golden retriever, to march with me in the parades. The marshals are always telling me not to fall behind because all the kids want to come out and pet Sooner, and of course I can hand them my campaign literature. Sooner is quite a plus.”
The general election will be held Nov. 7.