Sen. Clarke, powerful money committee chairman, announces state treasurer bid

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Adam Ganucheau | Mississippi Today

Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale and Senate Appropriations chairman, announced his 2019 candidacy for state treasurer on Wednesday.

Sen. Buck Clarke, R-Hollandale, and Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, announced his 2019 candidacy for state treasurer Wednesday.

Clarke, first elected to the state Senate in 2003, has headed the powerful committee that oversees state spending since 2012. He told a dozen supporters gathered at the Capitol that the office of state treasurer “fits my skill set.”

“In addition to my budget work here in the Senate, I’m celebrating my 40th year practicing public accounting through my work as a CPA,” Clarke said. “I’ve dealt with large, complex corporations in the state the last 40 years, all the way down to the simplest, W-2 taxpayer. I think I understand the dealings of the taxpayers and the citizens all over the state.”

Clarke has been a key architect of the state’s budget even as it has experienced ups and downs following the Great Recession. A self-proclaimed “die-hard conservative,” Clarke crafted a 2016 plan to sweep special funds into the state’s general fund, which balanced the budget after lackluster revenue collections that fiscal year. But critics of the move claimed that taking special funds — previously earmarked for specific programs — was a shell game designed to hide the severity of cuts to some agencies.

Clarke also led the charge in slashing most state agencies’ general fund budgets the past several fiscal years as revenue collections have dwindled, but a move that Republican leaders, including Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, have touted on the campaign trail.

“Government in Mississippi holds us back when it taxes and spends too much,” Clarke said in a Wednesday press release. “Mississippians succeed when we are allowed to keep more of what we earn to invest in new jobs and opportunity.”

The treasurer’s seat will be wide open next year as current Treasurer Lynn Fitch, a Republican who was first elected in 2011, announced this year she is running for attorney general.

Just one other person has officially announced a campaign for state treasurer. David McRae, a Madison County attorney, announced his bid earlier this year. McRae lost to Fitch in the 2015 Republican primary.

Southern District Public Service Commissioner Sam Britton, a Republican from Jones County, is also a likely candidate for treasurer after serving one term as a public service commissioner.

The deadline for statewide candidates to qualify is March 1, 2019. Statewide primaries will be held on Aug. 6, and the general election will be held on Nov. 5.