- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Two Republicans campaigning for the chance to serve as Kentucky’s next treasurer see value in the job as an independent watchdog of state finances. The third candidate has a different objective - he wants to close the office.

Jon Larson, a Lexington attorney, said he supports putting a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot that would seek to abolish the treasurer’s office. Larson said the treasurer’s duties can be folded into the state Finance and Administration Cabinet.

“A vote for any other candidate is going to perpetuate this padding of the political pockets,” Larson said.

All three candidates tout their conservative credentials. Larson’s opponents - state Rep. Kenneth Imes of Murray and attorney Allison Ball of Prestonsburg - said the office plays an important oversight role.

“You need a treasurer that will stand up for the public’s personal interests,” said Imes, who wants to increase public scrutiny of state contracts.

Ball said she would apply conservative principles “to make sure the only things that are spent are things that are authorized by the General Assembly.”

“I want more accountability, not less of it,” she said.

The winner in the May 19 primary will face the survivor of a five-way Democratic contest. The incumbent state treasurer, Democrat Todd Hollenbach, is finishing his second term and can’t serve again because of term limits.

The treasurer balances the state’s checkbook, collects and returns unclaimed property and handles other financial duties. The office has about 30 employees and an annual budget of $3.1 million. The treasurer also serves on the state lottery board, the State Investment Commission and the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System board of directors.

Imes said he wants to make state finances more transparent.

“I want the people of Kentucky to be able to actually see where we’re spending our money,” he said.

Imes said he also would work with state education officials to add financial literacy to the curriculum.

“You see kids now at fast-food places, they can’t make change if it weren’t for the machines,” he said.

Ball said she would work to connect more Kentuckians with their unclaimed property.

“As a believer of property rights, I want something that belongs to somebody to go back” to them, Ball said. “I don’t want the state to hold onto something that it shouldn’t hold on to.”

During Hollenbach’s tenure, the treasurer’s office has returned $122 million in unclaimed property to the rightful owners, his office said.

Larson said those responsibilities could be shifted seamlessly to the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

“I’m looking for smaller, more efficient government,” he said.

Larson isn’t the first Republican to run for state treasurer while supporting the office’s elimination. In 2007, Melinda Wheeler ran with the same objective but was defeated by Hollenbach in the general election.

In 2014, the Republican-run Senate passed a proposed ballot measure that would have let Kentuckians decide whether to abolish the office, but the measure eventually fell short.

The three candidates bring a geographical balance to the race. Imes is from far western Kentucky, Ball is from eastern Kentucky while Larson lives in the bluegrass region.

Imes, 68, is in his second stint in the Kentucky House. He served most of the 1970s as a Democrat and now is back as a GOP member. He is a former deputy secretary of the state Natural Resources Cabinet and has run several businesses, including a funeral home and billboard and monument companies.

Ball, 33, is a former county prosecutor now practicing bankruptcy law in eastern Kentucky, where her family has lived since the 1790s.

“As a bankruptcy lawyer, what I do all the time is I think about how to get people out of debt and how to get people on sound financial footing,” she said. “So it’s an excellent training to run for treasurer, to be the watchdog on our spending, to keep an eye on our money.”

Larson, 69, is a criminal defense lawyer who served as a public defender during parts of the 1970s and ‘80s.

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