- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina State Treasurer Janet Cowell announced Tuesday she won’t run for re-election in 2016, changing her mind after affirming earlier this year she would seek a third term.

In an email to supporters, Cowell also said she wouldn’t seek any elected office next year, despite overtures from fellow Democrats that she run for U.S. Senate. The decision creates an open seat on the Council of State in the 2016 election.

Cowell, 47, is a former Raleigh city council member and state senator who became treasurer after winning the 2008 election to succeed Democrat Richard Moore. She is the first woman to hold the position and will serve out the four-year term.

As treasurer, Cowell has the sole financial responsibility for the state’s pension fund assets, which reached $90 billion as of June, compared to $60 billion when she took the job in the depths of the Great Recession. The retirement system continues to be among the strongest in the country. The state also has retained its top bond rating.

“I feel confident that the Department of State Treasurer is much stronger today than it was in 2009,” Cowell wrote, giving no clues to her next steps. “Public service, both in or out of elective office, will continue to be a part of my life. I look forward to the next adventure.”

Cowell was traveling this week and not available for comment. Her “message to supporters reflects all she has to say at this time,” spokesman Schorr Johnson said.

Cowell had been considered a potential candidate to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, but she shunned the idea in public statements and had said as early as April that she was planning another run for treasurer.

“I am flattered to be mentioned as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate,” Cowell said in June.

On Tuesday, however, she said not seeking re-election “has been one of the more difficult decisions in my life,” adding she came to the conclusion after lots of careful deliberation and prayer.

Cowell is a Wharton business school graduate and former securities analyst in Asia who is fluent in Mandarin. She has been considered a rising political face in North Carolina Democratic politics, in part due to her ability to win statewide races while Republican power grew in North Carolina. She was frequently praised by Republican legislative leaders.

The General Assembly passed a law in 2011 that transferred control of the health insurance program for state employees, teachers and their retirees from the legislature to Cowell’s office.

“I think she’s performed her duties well,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, who helped shepherd the final Health Plan law.

State Democratic Party Chair Patsy Keever said in a release that Cowell “has been a tremendous public servant and our state is better off because of her hard work.”

Keever and state Republican Party Chairman Hasan Harnett both mentioned choosing her successor.

On the Republican side, current commerce department Assistant Secretary Dale Folwell and Edgar Starnes, a lobbyist for Cowell’s department, both said they were looking at possible candidacies. Both served in the state House. Folwell has run the state’s unemployment benefits office since 2013 and ran briefly for treasurer in 2008. Starnes was House majority leader.

Democrat Michael Weisel, a Raleigh attorney who ran for treasurer in 1996 and 2008, also said he was considering a run.

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