By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Investment banker J.J. Ament announced Tuesday that he’ll challenge real estate company president Walker Stapleton for the Republican nomination for Colorado treasurer in 2010 and, he hopes, to challenge Democratic incumbent Cary Kennedy in the general election in November.
Ament, 37, has deep roots in Colorado’s politics, and business.
He was born and raised on a family ranch in Logan County and one of his first jobs was representing farmers as executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, a $500 million-a-year concern.
Ament, who is devoting full time to his campaign, left Citigroup in November, shortly before it imploded. He lives in Littleton with his wife, Nicole, their 7-year old daughter Elli, and 4-year-old twins Sydney and Sam.
“My business experience has helped government run their offices better and manage their finances,” Ament told The Colorado Statesman. “I think that level of experience and know-how, and the combination private sector experience with an extensive knowledge of government financial responsibilities is what we need at the Capitol.”
Ament plans to campaign on the idea that Colorado should have a chief financial officer, and that it should be the state treasurer.
He said the state treasurer should be “an active participant in the budget and be an independent resource to the governor and legislators.”
He adds that the treasurer should also point out inefficiencies in the state government, a role he has taken as banker for state treasuries and CFOs across the country.
He is indignant that Colorado Department of Health offices are housed in a building owned by the Canadian government’s pension entity.
“The state doesn’t take advantage of the fact that [renting locally] is credit worthy and tax-exempt,” Ament said. “That could save millions of dollars and deliver some equity to the taxpayers.”
That’s only the tip of the iceberg, however. Ament said state offices are housed in 3.5 million square feet of rental space throughout the city.
“This could be so much more efficient for taxpayers,” he said.
He also wants a more transparent treasury. He said that, in addition to publicizing the state budget, the state treasurer should post all state government expenditures on line.
Under current policies, he noted, citizens can’t see “that the health department is paying rent to Canada’s pension program.”
Ament believes in an independent treasury, and he said Kennedy, a Democrat, is too closely aligned with the governor’s office.
“We need to restore the independence that has existed between those two in the past,” he said. “I want to execute the duties well, and I don’t want to choose initiatives that spend taxpayers’ money as they have done in the past.”
In response to the fact that Walker Stapleton, the other Republican candidate, already has raised $138,211, Ament said that he is organized and excited to start raising money.
Ament says his level of experience sets him apart from his competition.
Before Ament became an investment banker, he was director of public affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. In 1992 he worked in the 4th Congressional District Washington office of then-Congressman Wayne Allard. Then, when Scott McInnis was elected to his first term in November 1992, Ament helped the new 3rd Congressional District representative in his Washington office in 1993.
Over the past nine years, Ament has specialized in public finance, working for George K. Baum in Colorado and later for UBS before going to Citigroup.
In the past two years he was Colorado State University’s banker and he also worked for the Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado at Fitzsimons. In 2005, Ament helped the Department of Transportation consolidate its real estate holdings. Ament also served as senior banker for Colorado’s $231 million investment in higher education projects in 2008.
Ament’s campaign manager is Jesse Mallory. The rest of the staff is not yet finalized.
He is a strong supporter of using the caucus system.
“It is a great way in a primary to get out and meet the activists in the party and earn their support,” he said.
Ament told The Statesman, “If we are going to get the fiscal house in order, then we
need to elect a treasurer with the knowledge and perspective that got us into the situation we are in right now. You really need to know the history to get us back on track.”
A spokesperson for Kennedy said the Democratic incumbent is “looking forward to a spirited dialogue about how to protect Colorado’s finances during this economic downturn.”
Stapleton also weighed in.
“I currently am blessed with a great paying job. My opponent doesn’t have a job and hasn’t in some time. I think it’s important that people do public service as a sacrifice. A very transparent way to distinguish myself is that I have a job in the private sector and I am sacrificing that for public service,” Stapleton said.