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Q&A: 'Experience matters' — Gabe Esparza talks candidacy for state treasurer

FEBRUARY 6, 2024

The Daily Tar Heel's Annika Duneja spoke with state treasurer candidate Gabe Esparza to hear about his experience and plans for the state treasury. His opponent in the Democratic primary is N.C. Rep. Wesley Harris (D-Mecklenburg).

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily Tar Heel: How do the past experiences that you've had make you a good candidate for state treasurer?

Gabe Esparza: In this race, experience matters. The state treasurer's office is almost 500 people. You have to think about managing a budget, managing the operations of the business that you're dealing with, managing customer service and, ultimately for this job, managing money. I've managed a large loan portfolio for the Small Business Administration, I've raised $200 million in venture capital money for the startup that I was involved with, and I managed hundreds of millions of dollars of credit being issued to American consumers during my time at American Express.

My experience prepares me for this job, and this job is about the most business-y type of job that you're gonna get in the executive branch. What screams business more than the state treasurer?

DTH: Why are you running for state treasurer?

GE: I'm competitive, I believe in public service and the treasurer's job is the one that most aligns with my skills, but it's also the one that has the opportunity for enormous impact. It's a $115 billion pension fund that you have to manage. It's the state health plan for all of the current state employees and retirees in the state. So it's a big job, and one that I think needs a much more competent hand leading the organization.

DTH: If elected, what goals would you like to accomplish?

GE: This treasurer has chosen to keep an enormous portion of the pension fund in cash, but he's not investing. So I would immediately take $10 billion of the money that's sitting there in cash and move it into a higher returning investment vehicle. In general, I would want to go through what's called an asset allocation study to determine where is the best place to put the money.

On the state health care plan, we would want to set up this rapid response team to make sure that the transition is going well. And start to get out there and negotiate with big pharmaceutical companies and big hospitals to make sure that our healthcare costs are both transparent and low.

DTH: Why are you the best candidate in this race?

GE: I've managed large matrix organizations. The treasurer's office is 500 people. My opponent has never managed not only a team, he’s never managed another individual. And you expect him to go manage a 500-person layered organization? That's very risky. Number two, I've gone toe-to-toe negotiating with big corporations, and he has never negotiated with another corporation. Number three, I've raised and managed money. He admitted that he's never managed money. And so you're telling me that for what are the most important pieces of the job, managing a big organization and managing money and negotiating with big corporate interests, he has never done any of that.

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