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Jeff Gudman, Democratic treasurer candidate, wants PERS balanced


Jeff Gudman, Democratic treasurer candidate, wants PERS balanced

Apr 23, 2024 | 9:00 am ET
By Alex Baumhardt
Jeff Gudman, Democratic treasurer candidate, wants PERS balanced
Jeff Gudman (left) talks with his campaign manager (middle) Zach Bayer and Bayer's son in Oregon City in early 2024. Gudman is running in the Democratic primary for treasurer. (Campaign photo)

Jeff Gudman is trying for a third time to become Oregon state treasurer, but first the former Republican will need to secure the Democratic nomination.

Gudman, a private investor and former Lake Oswego city councilman, is running against state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, in the May 21 Oregon primary. Gudman previously ran twice for state treasurer as a Republican against current Democratic Treasurer Tobias Read and lost by 10% in 2020 and 2% in 2016. Gudman decided to run as a Democrat because the Republican Party’s values no longer align with his own, he said, singling out the party’s attempts to restrict women’s health care and access to abortions.

Name: Jeff Gudman

Party: Democrat

Age: 69 (70 by date of primary)

Residence: Lake Oswego

Current occupation: Private investor

Prior elected experience: Lake Oswego City Council representative

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics, Pomona College in California, 1976; master’s degree in finance and management, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, 1979

Family status: Single

Fundraising: $81,888 as of April 22, 2024

Cash on hand: $40,853 as of April 22, 2024

“The values I have with respect for the dignity of every individual, to help them when they’re down, to make quality of opportunity a reality and not just a theory, the Republican Party left me,” he told the Capital Chronicle in an interview. 

The winner of the primary will run in the Nov. 5 general election against the lone Republican candidate, state Sen. Brian Boquist of Dallas. The winner will serve a four-year term with a two-term limit during any 12-year period. The current office holder, Tobias Read, is term limited and running for secretary of state.

The treasurer sits on several financial boards and the State Land Board, which manages Oregon land trusts for the Common School Fund. The treasurer also serves as the central banker for state agencies and manages more than $100 billion in state investments and programs, including the $94 billion in the Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System, or PERS.

As treasurer, Gudman’s top priorities would be to secure PERS solvency; increase transparency around investments and private investment firms working with the Treasury; and use the office as a bully pulpit and a bank to encourage investment in infrastructure projects for small communities around the state.

As a city councilor in Lake Oswego for eight years, he said his “focus was on infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure.” 

Gudman’s plan

Gudman sees the treasurer’s office as influential in getting needed infrastructure, such as housing and roads, built in small communitie. He said he would leverage the agency’s bonding programs to spur investment in projects and establish a committee to make recommendations for infrastructure investments to the Legislature.  

To help deal with the PERS $28 billion in unfunded liability, Gudman would ask the Legislature to commit $100 million per year for 10 years to the fund, easing the contributions from governments and schools. 

Gudman said he’d make information about state investments easily accessible to the public online, decrease the amount of PERS money which is held in private equity and tour each county in the state to meet with the public and answer questions about investments. 

Besides serving as a city councilor, Gudman has served as a controller, analyst and treasurer for a number of organizations, including USA Olympic Swimming and the Clackamas Free Clinic, which offers health care to low-income residents in Clackamas County. He’s regularly attended public portions of the PERS board meetings and Oregon Investment Council meetings for the past 15 years, he said, and has more than 45 years of investing and budgeting experience.

Oregon’s treasurer oversees billions in state investments, including the PERS fund, and manages public banking and savings programs, including the Oregon College Savings Plan and OregonSaves, a retirement plan for self-employed workers. 

Steiner, Gudman’s opponent, is considered a front runner with the benefit of name recognition after serving as a state senator representing part of Portland for more than a decade, including co-chairing the powerful budget-writing committee for about five years. But Gudman said his experience is a better match.

“We need to stop thinking about the treasurer as a super legislator,” Gudman said. “You want to think about the treasurer as someone who is going to be a financial leader. Who is going to speak out professionally, politely and forcefully on different issues. Senator Steiner isn’t where she is by pushing back against the establishment.”

Divestment of fossil-fuel holdings

The next treasurer will enter the office at a time when many PERS beneficiaries want the state to move away from fossil-fuel investments. Read’s Net-Zero Plan aims to phase out many of fossil fuel-related investments in PERS to make the portfolio essentially carbon neutral by 2050, and this session the Legislature passed the COAL Act, which directs the Treasury to unload coal-related holdings.

Gudman said he would honor the COAL Act’s guidance and Read’s plan but would not phase out investments in oil and gas entirely. 

“We need to continue decarbonisation without question,” he said, adding: “Oil and gas and all the products that come with oil and gas are not going to disappear from our economy for decades. That means there’s going to be opportunities to make money in that.” 

He said it would be more effective for the state to work with other managers of big pension funds that are invested in fossil-fuel companies to pressure them to move faster toward decarbonizing their holdings.