Candidate for NC treasurer, Democrat Gabe Esparza, answers our questions
FEBRUARY 08, 2024
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Name: Gabe Esparza
Political party: Democrat
Age as of March 5, 2024: 51
Campaign website: https://www.gabefornorthcarolina.com/
Current occupation: Current: candidate for office; former: Associate Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration
Professional experience: Gabe Esparza is a seasoned executive with over 25 years of experience leading businesses spanning both large corporations and nimble startups. From 2021 to 2023, Gabe served our country as Associate Administrator at the U.S. Small Business Administration. He played an integral part of the success story at RapidSOS – a gov tech platform that transformed the nation’s 911 system. Before that, Gabe spent 13 years at American Express as Vice President of Global Business Development, Commercial Payments.
Education: Stanford University (BA), Harvard Business School (MBA)
What offices have you run for or held before? Have you had any other notable government or civic involvement? From 2021-2023 I served in the Biden administration as the Associate Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. From 2008 to 2018 I was a Commissioner on the Civil Service Commission. I am currently a Trustee of Central Piedmont Community College.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE BIGGEST ISSUE IN NORTH CAROLINA THAT YOU WOULD BE ABLE TO SHAPE IF ELECTED? The most critical challenge facing the treasurer is to ensure the state pension fund is stable. The pension fund has underperformed and the current treasurer has shifted the burden of funding current payout liabilities to the taxpayers. There is also news that UNC Health and ECU Health have been granted permission by the N.C. General Assembly to exit the state pension fund. The totality of this situation risks the state’s AAA credit rating.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS OR IS NOT WORKING WELL UNDER THE CURRENT OFFICE HOLDER? IF NOT, HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE IT? While the current treasurer has done an admirable job pressuring hospitals on pricing transparency, his track record on pension fund performance has been abysmal – dead last in the U.S. over the last five years. He also seems to have made a questionable decision on choosing to drop Blue Cross for Aetna. North Carolina needs a leader with investment savvy who can challenge corporate interests. I am eager to use my executive management experience on behalf of all North Carolinians.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE TO ADDRESS STAFF VACANCIES IN YOUR AGENCY AND IN STATE GOVERNMENT AS A WHOLE? It used to be that government was a steady job that provided a good pension and good benefits. Today, wages have failed to keep up with inflation, workers have no collective bargaining rights, and benefits are steadily being eroded. The solution is simple – pay current workers both a decent wage and one that is superior to our neighboring states. Cost of living increases should keep up with inflation and the pension fund must produce sufficient returns to ensure long-term stability.
IS THERE AN ISSUE ON WHICH YOU DISAGREE WITH YOUR PARTY? WHAT IS YOUR POSITION ON THAT ISSUE? As the former head of the SBA Office of International Trade, I believe some Democrats underestimate the importance of international trade agreements. American power begins with economic power on the world stage. Our ability to define and negotiate terms that protect jobs while creating robust markets for our products and services has fallen victim to political jockeying. There are trade deals to be done that would ensure stable supply chains, stimulate digital commerce, and create American jobs.
WILL YOU KEEP PREMIUMS ON THE STATE HEALTH PLAN LOW OR FROZEN? HOW WILL YOU DO SO? To keep Health Plan premiums low, we must first directly engage with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to negotiate long-term, stable pricing, while also investing in preventative care solutions that keep people healthy. I have the experience to negotiate those deals. The second solution that provides external pressure on prices is to get rid of the Certificate of Need systems that distorts the market and restricts competition. More competition means lower prices for consumers.
HOW WOULD YOU MANAGE INVESTMENTS OF THE STATE PENSION PLAN DIFFERENTLY THAN YOUR PREDECESSOR? I would shift an additional $10 billion of cash into higher-return investment vehicles, including alternatives which have seen outsized returns over the last five years. I would create an in-state investment mandate where the fund looks for high-quality investments in North Carolina including new technologies, infrastructure and renewables. I would also leverage emerging asset managers in order to provide meaningful opportunities to women and diverse managers who are proven to outperform.