New Bern, NC – INTRO - Democrat Janet Cowell, like her opponent Republican Bill Daughtridge, is seeking to make the leap from state legislator to a member of the Council of State by running for state treasurer. George Olsen has this profile.
Janet Cowell is completing her second term as state Senator representing Wake County. Being a legislator means getting to dabble in a lot of things, from approving a budget on down.
"When you look at the ongoing programs of things like technology which is a committee I co-chair, all of these more complex programs offered by the state, when you're a half-time legislator in a part-time body, it's just inherently difficult to have that oversight."
which is why she's decided to "specialize," so to speak, and leave the state Senate for a shot at a state-wide post.
"So getting to the Executive Branch where you can have a full-time focus on obviously a narrower set of issues, but they're issues I feel like I have the training in, having done the financial services work in private equity and as a stock analyst and having worked as a Fortune 500 consultant with large organizations, not dissimilar from treasury where you're dealing with technology systems, performance management issues, those sorts of things, I just felt that would combine my skills and interests in a job that's critical to the state and one where I could make a bigger difference than as a state Senator."
If elected, she'll be coming in during a period of national economic turmoil which is being felt in North Carolina, from the rise in unemployment to the sale of Charlotte-based banking giant Wachovia. Despite Wachovia's troubles, Cowell believes that the state banking system is solid.
" I think the biggest challenge to the state banking system was about a month ago when the Congress was weighing the bail-out package or the credit liquidity package, whatever you want to call it, I know I talked to a number of community bank CEOs at the time who didn't have any direct exposure to sub-prime or other kind of problem lending areas, they were just getting squeezed by both a run on credit lines by the clients and customers as well as shut down of interbank lending, and no bank can survive that situation for very long. Everything I'm hearing is that that liquidity is starting to flow through so that initial problem is, hopefully, on its way to being solved and that was the biggest problem for banks."
Cowell mentioned 350-thousand dollars appropriated by the state Senate in the last session to help those affected by sub-prime mortgages to get credit counseling in order to stay in their homes. She hopes more programs along that line to increase financial literacy can be made available.
"Those kinds of programs are going to be important because this is a learning moment I think for many people. When times are good, people may not be as open about thinking through the practices they have in terms of debt or spending. I think now is the time when everybody is waking up and realizing that many individuals in the state have higher debt loads than they'd like to see, and mortgage so working with the credit unions, working with individuals, working with the banking sectors trying to keep people in their homes would be the priority in this coming year as well."
Cowell adds the Senate program only offered counseling, not direct aid to mortgage holders. However, she is willing to put the power of the state treasurer's office to work in the courts if she feels the 700,000 participants in the state pension system which the treasurer oversees have been damaged by unscrupulous actions.
"Increasingly over the past 8 years, individual stockholders have been pre-empted in their ability to go to the courts to pursue losses under the past federal administration. Some of those individual rights have been taken away, so increasingly in the courts in terms of shareholder activism, treasury and officials, state treasurers, pension fund managers have had to take on the role of pursuing their rights or recovering losses in court if there has been fraud, so I certainly think, potentially going into the state treasury position, you also look at what are your rights to pursue losses in the state pension system or if someone has perpetrated fraud on investors that are covered by the pension system, working with the attorney general or individually, the treasurer can go through the court to try and effect change"
Janet Cowell is the Democratic candidate for state treasurer. I'm George Olsen.