June 21, 2006
Another contender for Treasurer

From the "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" files, we have a new contender for the GOP nomination for Harris County Treasurer: Former Harris County Treasurer Don Sumners.

"It's going to be a fight, but I'm up to it," said Sumners, who filed paperwork Tuesday indicating his intent to seek the position.

"Commissioners Court has robbed the office of its functions. Now they say it's not needed."


Sumners, who held the office for one term and fended off an effort to abolish the position , lost to Cato in the 1998 GOP primary. He now works as the director of quality assurance for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt.


Sumners promoted his candidacy in a letter Tuesday to Republican precinct chairs, declaring "war on those who want to abolish the office."

As the taxpayers' only independent voice on financial matters, the treasurer is in the unique position to provide a second opinion about the county's financial health, he wrote.

Commissioners who want to get rid of the office fear accountability and transparency, he charged.

"Jack, although a congenial person, did exactly what he was put into office to do, nothing," Sumner wrote.

Commissioner Steve Radack, a staunch supporter of Cato, dismissed Sumners.

"This is the same Don Sumners the voters turned out of office after four years," Radack said. "The problem with Mr. Sumners is he can say it, but he just can't sell it."

Sumners admits he doesn't have any visible support.

"I have myself. That's all I've ever had," he said.

True enough. For example, he doesn't have the support of Gary Polland, who's firmly in the Orlandomania camp. You'll note, however, that nowhere in that mash note does Polland ever make the case for why we need a Treasurer's office, nor does he connect any of Orlando Sanchez's past glories to any purported function of the Treasurer's office. Apparently, the principle of smaller government is less important than the principle of rewarding your buddies. Not that this surprises me, mind you.

Interestingly enough, in the exchange between Sumners and Radack, Sumners got it right. In the seven-plus years that he was County Treasurer, Jack Cato did exactly nothing in his official capacity that was notable enough to make the newspaper. I've now extended that archive search to all years, and there's just nothing. Try it yourself and see what I mean. Maybe Sumners, and for that matter Orlando Sanchez, are correct in saying that the Treasurer is supposed to be a watchdog/advocate of some kind. If so, then my question to them would be what did Jack Cato's non-advocacy cost Harris County during his tenure? If you can't identify anything that we missed by not having an activist Treasurer, then tell me again why we need a Treasurer.

By the way, here's a blast from the past for you from that extended archive search:

Incumbent Don Sumners told a gathering of about 50 downtown Republicans that he sees his role as a "taxpayer watchdog," fighting against tax increases and unnecessary county spending.

But Sumner's opponent, former television reporter Jack Cato, said the treasurer has no say in the county's property-tax rates and said Sumners spends too much time working on issues unrelated to the office.

Sumners and Cato appeared before the Downtown Pachyderm Club trying to drum up support before the March 10 primary. About half the crowd appeared solidly in one camp or the other, and several in the gathering took the opportunity to question their candidate's opponent.

Much of the discussion focused on Sumners' rocky relationship with other county officials. While Sumners said those problems were the result of his opposition to several high-profile county issues in the past several years, Cato painted him as a county gadfly of sorts, "spending all your time `speaking out,' and not doing the job you're supposed to do."

Sumners' relationship with other county officials - most notably County Commissioner Steve Radack - is considerably less than friendly. Sumners irritated Radack in 1996 by criticizing an unexpected property-tax increase Radack proposed.

"It's no secret that Steve Radack has been after me for a long time. And it really got going when he brought out the sneak tax increase," Sumners said. He said Radack had been looking for someone to run against him and, turning toward Cato, he said: "And I think he found one."

Nice to see that Sumners and Radack have not kissed and made up.

Look, I don't care if county officials get along or not, and I certainly don't object to someone pissing off the Commissioners' Court. But if the Treasurer's office has no actual power to provide a check and balance on what the Commissioners can do, then I ask again why we need to pay for such an office. Let Sumners and Orlando Sanchez do their watchdog thing on their own dime. It'll have as much effect, and it'll save the taxpayers a couple hundred grand a year in salary, benefits, and overhead.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 21, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

As other County Treasurers noted in Harris County Commissioners Court yesterday: there's no savings in counties without County Treasurers as the department head often makes more than the former Treasurer did.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on June 21, 2006 11:01 AM

"Nice to see that Sumners and Radack have not kissed and made up."

Landing Radack's ire is a virtue: a sign that you have arrived, that you hit the bulls eye.

Posted by: Sergeant Carter on June 21, 2006 12:29 PM

There's just nothing quite like Republican hypocrisy, is there?

So much for advocating "smaller government" - but then we always did know such sloganeering was just meaningless pandering. Too bad more voters aren't paying attention.

Posted by: Dennis on June 21, 2006 1:25 PM