Arizona state treasurer candidate Kimberly Yee says she has more work to do

Incumbent Republican Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Lee speaks during the PBS Horizon Clean Election State Treasurer Debate in Phoenix on June 27, 2022.
Incumbent Republican Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Lee speaks during the PBS Horizon Clean Election State Treasurer Debate in Phoenix on June 27, 2022.

Republican Kimberly Yee said she has helped improve the financial stability of Arizona but she is seeking a second term as state treasurer because she has more work to do.

“I think we have more to do in this office that has never been done before,” Yee said, noting that she wants to continue pushing for programs that help Arizonans improve their finances.

She defeated Republicans Bob Lettieri and Jeff Weninger in the August primary election and will face Democrat Martín Quezada in the Nov. 8 general election.

Yee was the first Asian American candidate to win statewide office in Arizona when she was elected in 2018. She was previously a state senator, representing District 20 in the West Valley, and was majority leader from 2017 to 2019. Yee previously worked for the state Legislature and the Treasurer’s Office.

Before jumping into Arizona politics, Yee worked for two Republican governors in California. She was a deputy Cabinet secretary under Arnold Schwarzenegger and a policy analyst for Pete Wilson. Her husband runs a dental practice.

She initially was running for governor but dropped out of that race to seek a second term.

Yee attended Greenway High School in Phoenix and graduated from Pepperdine University with a degree in English and political science, working as a resident adviser, director for campus art museum, tutor and nanny to pay her way through school.

She says that experience is important because she advocates for young people to minimize debt from college.

“I think part of our mission at the Treasurer’s Office has been, let’s get families to not get into debt and start saving early,” she said.

Yee also earned a master’s in public administration from Arizona State University.

The Treasurer's Office took over the Arizona 529 college savings plan during her tenure, something she said she first discussed with Gov. Doug Ducey, who served one term as treasurer.

College 529 savings plans are offered in nearly every state. They allow people to save money for a beneficiary and pay for education expenses. Withdrawals for college expenses are tax-free. They also can pay for trade and vocational training schools.

Arizona’s plan also allows a $2,000 tax deduction for each beneficiary on such an account

“It was never promoted,” she said of her reason for wanting to bring it under the Treasurer's Office.

Yee is proud of the office’s work to translate materials into Spanish and Navajo languages to help expand participation to people who traditionally are more hesitant to invest in such plans.

The plans are gaining 1,000 participants a month, she said.

“What I’m finding as a minority woman is that when I go talk to groups like Head Start or First Things First, there is a cultural issue in banking and putting your money aside to an institution that is not your own freezer,” she said. “They came from somewhere where they couldn’t trust the banking system, and why would they put their hard-earned money into an institution that doesn’t have a face. So they store it in their freezers or cupboards and it is not growing.”

Yee touts Financial Literacy Task Force

But just marketing the savings plan is not enough. She said the state’s financial health depends on residents having financial stability.

“Financial education in a personal household directly correlates with the financial health of the state, absolutely,” she said. “When you are helping an individual or family be smarter about their money management it correlates with the overall fiscal health of the state and our economy. And that’s why we’ve promoted financial literacy and financial education across the state from day one.”

She used her office to create a Financial Literacy Task Force that includes representatives from financial institutions as well as community groups such as Wildfire and also the vice president of the Navajo Nation. That task force has promoted changes to state law, she said, that benefit overall financial literacy in the state.

In 2019 she said she supported a bill that passed requiring Arizona high school students to learn financial literacy.

“The battle is always, where are you going to fit these classes,” she said. “So I knew where our opposition could have been.”

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She said she worked with the Arizona State Board of Education to combine financial education with economics courses.

“We actually put it in the law that when you have your semester of econ you have your semester of financial literacy,” she said.

“I already have a strong background in education policy. So we need to get into our schools to not only share the message of savings … but making it fun. One idea our task force is promoting is how do you create something for children that is fun and engaging.”

Another change Yee said she supported was requirements for people getting state financial subsidies from DES to have to participate in financial literacy coursework.

“To help them understand what it is to create a budget, to set money aside, so they do not have to go back into the system,” she said.

'Working with the people's money'

Yee has two grade-school-age boys, and said the financial lessons she tries to impart to them translate to the state.

That started with paying the boys for certain chores, like washing the car. She keeps the money in a Ziplock back so it is visible to them. Then she would take them to the dollar store and let them spend their earnings.

“What I have learned from my children is, they get bored very quickly with the dollar store,” she said. “Then they start saying, 'If we saved more and put more money in the Ziplock bag, can we go to Walmart or Target, because they have bigger toys and they are much better?'”

That’s the kind of financial literacy she advocates for schools and others.

“It’s the same thing that we like to share with our friends in the Legislature," she said. "You don’t have to spend every penny you have in the bucket. You’ve got to put money aside for a rainy day. You also have to pay down your debt ... . There are so many pieces of debt on the books that many of these young legislators don’t know because of term limits."

She said in 2019 she spoke to the Appropriations Committee to encourage lawmakers to save more.

“It’s the same as a household, but you are working with the people’s money,” she said.

Yee said she has spent much of her time in the Treasurer’s Office meeting with various city and town officials to discuss the investments that her office manages for them. She said she often spends those meetings discussing the benefits of moving portions of their savings to higher-yielding investments.

She said on the campaign trail she has heard voters’ concerns about border security, but also the economy.

"That is No. 1 in this cycle," she said. "The economy is obviously at the forefront. People are paying more at the gas pump. They are not finding inventory they need on the store shelves. ... That is something that is not American. I think people are really concerned about what is to come."

Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at ryan.randazzo@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Republican treasurer candidate 2022 candidate: Kimberly Yee