Littleton investment banker J.J. Ament has thrown his hat into the 2010 race for state treasurer.
Ament, who is running as a Republican, has spent years in the private banking industry working mostly with governments on major investment projects, and he says taxpayers' dollars can be used and invested more efficiently.
"I've worked with this treasurer (and) with this governor," Ament said. "And it was frustrating for me to show them the right things to do and have them not do them, and then have to sit there afterward and show them the losses."
Most of Ament's banking experience over the years — whether at Colorado-based investment bank George K. Baum & Co. or international finance behemoths UBS and Citigroup — was spent working with various governments in financing major projects or consulting on how investments could be more efficient. Ament worked in that capacity with the state of Colorado, when he helped the state Department of Transportation consolidate its real estate holdings, helped with financing of projects for Colorado State University and the University of Colorado, and was a senior banker for the state's $231 million in higher education investments in 2008.
Ament grew up in Logan County, up Interstate 76 in northeast Colorado, in a family with longtime political connections. His father, Don Ament, served in the Colorado Senate, House and as Gov. Bill Owens’ agriculture commissioner.
J.J., 37, graduated from CU with a degree in business administration and finance, and went straight to work as executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. He went on to work for former U.S. senator Wayne Allard and former congressman Scott McInnis in Washington. After that, he worked as director of public affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. And then it was on to the investment banking world.
Earlier this year, Jeffco Commissioner Kevin McCasky invited Ament to speak to the Citizen Budget Review Panel about the intricacies of financing major public construction projects.
Ament now lives in Littleton "about 300 yards west of Jeffco" with his wife Nicole, 7-year-old daughter, Elli, and 4-year-old twins, Sydney and Sam.
He left Citigroup in November 2008 after the company shed most of its Denver employees, and planned to spend time with his young family. But he said the itch to run for treasurer grew as he traveled the state for various events and people encouraged him to run, citing his experience with private and public-sector financing and his political work. His wife, whom he met in Washington while both were working for congressmen, was his first supporter.
"She's had politics," Ament said. "She knew what this meant for us, and she was enthusiastic."
Ament said the keys to a statewide victory are money and organization. He thinks his work with colleges and universities around the state will help him with name recognition, and says he can raise the money to compete effectively with current Treasurer Cary Kennedy, a Democrat, and his GOP primary opponent, Walker Stapleton, a Denver businessman who runs a real estate company and is a first cousin of former President George W. Bush.
Stapleton has already raised more than $138,000, and Kennedy has raised more than $100,000, according to state campaign finance records. Ament is so new in the race that state records indicated he hadn't raised any money yet.
Ament says he can raise the money and is confident that once his message of experience and practical money-management strategy gets out, he'll win the primary and a general election in November 2010.
Ament said he will remain politically independent no matter who the governor is when he's elected treasurer.
"Of all the jobs in that building, the treasurer's job should be the least political," Ament said. "Good fiscal policy always trumps politics, and that hasn't been the case for the last two years."
Ament claims Kennedy supported diverting money from the state's education trust fund to subprime loans to install solar panels on some schools, an example of "misuse of this state's investment."
Ament said the fact that the state rents office space from a building owned by Canada's national pension system when Colorado's public pension system is mired in massive debt is unacceptable, and that the state renting out 3.5 million square feet of office space is inefficient.
Bottom line for Ament is that he says the state treasurer needs to act like the chief financial officer of a corporation and manage state funds as efficiently as possible.
"Since the treasurer sees all the cash flow of the state, they should do that," Ament said. "I'm going to point out when I see waste."