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State representative, CEO of drone services company face off in Arkansas treasurer’s race

by Neal Earley | October 30, 2022 at 2:44 a.m.
State Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, faces Democrat Pam Whitaker in the November 2022 election for state treasurer.

Republican Mark Lowery and Democrat Pam Whitaker are running to fill the role of Arkansas' state treasurer currently held by Dennis Milligan, who is term-limited and running for the office of state auditor.

The treasurer is the state's banker and oversees a $4.5 billion investment portfolio. The treasurer is tasked with ensuring safety and liquidity in the state's portfolio and making sure there is a healthy return on investment.

The office is responsible for receiving and making payments and overseeing wire transfers. The treasurer also serves on the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and Arkansas Teacher Retirement System boards.

Early voting is underway for the Nov. 8 general election.

Both candidates originally planned to run for other offices, with Lowery initially announcing a run for secretary of state and Whitaker previously announcing a bid for mayor of Little Rock.

Lowery is a state representative from Maumelle, and Whitaker is CEO of East Coast Awakening, an aerial drone services company, and formerly worked at the Internal Revenue Service, where she worked on technical program management, systems engineering and process improvement initiatives.

Prior to his election to the Legislature in 2012, Lowery, 65, worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Central Arkansas, a lobbyist and an insurance executive. He is chair of the House Insurance and Commerce Committee and said his five terms in the General Assembly have prepared him to hold a constitutional office.

"I have been a fighter in my 10 years in the Legislature," Lowery said. "I'll use that office as a bully pulpit to travel the state, as I already have been doing, gleaning information from Arkansans and hopefully being able to bring it back and talk with legislators."

If elected, Lowery has pledged to continue to divest state funds from companies that subscribe to an Environmental, Social and Governance, or ESG, investing model. The model, supported by many large Wall Street firms, is about considering environmental and social factors, not just profit when making investments.

In March, current state treasurer Milligan divested $125 million in state funds from the New York-based firm BlackRock.

Lowery said if elected, he would divest from companies that divest from fossil fuels or institute LGBTQ diversity practices in hiring. He said he would look into divesting the state from other firms that use an ESG strategy such as Vanguard or State Street Corporation.

"I think the fiduciary responsibility that I have as the treasurer is to make sure the people's money is invested in such a way where we are focusing in on [the] return on investment rather than political correctness," Lowery said.

Lowery said he also wants to bring in an "unpaid council of economic advisors" who would consult with the treasurer's investment team.

Lowery has filed for bankruptcy twice. In 1998, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which allows for the liquidation of assets to help pay creditors. The case was closed later that year.

In 2017, Lowery filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which allows those with a regular income to develop a plan to repay debts. Lowery has received criticism from Republican primary opponent State Sen. Mat Pitsch of Fort Smith and Whitaker, who said it is a sign Lowery is not fit for the office.

Lowery said he should not be knocked for exercising a constitutional right to declare bankruptcy and, like many Arkansas, he knows what it is like to struggle financially.

"I think it has better prepared me to understand the mitigating issues that a lot of people go through whether it is through medical cost, whether it is a divorce, whatever, that creates hardships," Lowery said. "While I would not have wanted it to be a part of my political resume, I think it has made me much more approachable and understanding of the challenges average Arkansans undergo."

Whitaker, 67, is a native of Oklahoma who moved to Arkansas to take care of her mother after working for the IRS in Washington, D.C.

She has a background in software and hardware development working for defense contractor General Dynamics. Along with being a CEO, Whitaker is the founder of the non-profit Cyber Fly Girls, which is aimed at encouraging more women to study science, technology, engineering and math.

Whitaker said because of her background in business, software development, auditing and non-profit work, she is the most qualified candidate.

"I'm competent, I'm experienced, I have executive-level experience across the board," Whitaker said. "I know how to talk to people who are at all different levels, and I have lived at all different levels."

Whitaker said as treasurer she would have a more active role in educating the public about financial literacy and cyber security.

Whitaker contrasted herself to Lowery, noting his two bankruptcies and an $800 fine from the Arkansas Ethics Commission levied against him in August for failure to file timely campaign finance reports. Lowery said he was found guilty of making "administrative errors, not ethical violations."

"There seems to be a clear difference in trust and integrity with the folks who are running," Whitaker said.

When asked about divesting state funds from fossil fuels, Whitaker said if elected treasurer she would consider it, saying climate change along with an increasing demand for electric vehicles could mean fossil fuels are on the decline. She said if elected she will bring in a group of advisors to analyze whether to divest from fossil fuels.

"I think things are changing as far as what makes money," Whitaker said. "You've got to be observant over the whole market."

Whitaker said she would create public relations programs to educate the public on how to protect their financial and personal information. She also pledged to bring more transparency to the office and to keep investment targets on track.

"All I can say is I'm going to do the best I can to get the involvement of others, and it will be a fair and measurable input from others," Whitaker said.

State Treasurer

Mark Lowery

Age: 65

Residence: Maumelle

Occupation: Part-time university lecturer

Education: Master and Bachelor of Arts in communication, University of Arkansas

Public service experience: Five terms in Arkansas Legislature

Pam Whitaker

Age: 67

Residence: Little Rock

Occupation: Education coordinator, Central Arkansas ISACA

Education: Bachelor’s degree in computer science, Oklahoma State University

Public service experience: League of Women Voters, VIPS Little Rock School District Board member, National Contract Management Association, InfraGard; Arkansas Small Business Associations Inc., Arkansas Users of Telecom and Information Systems, founder of nonprofit Cyber Fly Girls

Print Headline: Legislator, CEO vie for state treasurer


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