Politics

Mike Pieciak, former financial regulation commissioner, is running for Vermont state treasurer

Michael Pieciak announces his candidacy for state treasurer during a press conference in Montpelier on Friday, May 6. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Updated at 5:32 p.m.

MONTPELIER — Vermont’s former chief banking and insurance watchdog is running to be the next state treasurer.

Mike Pieciak formally kicked off his campaign Friday in front of the Vermont Supreme Court in Montpelier, saying he would leverage the office to tackle some of the state’s thorniest problems, including the housing crisis and climate change.

He also said he was “shocked” by the national right’s renewed focus on rolling back gay rights and abortion rights, and noted that he, too, was a member of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“All of this can certainly be discouraging. However, I am very optimistic about the future we can build together here in our home state of Vermont, with a collaborative approach that focuses on solving problems and helping people succeed,” the 38-year-old Winooski Democrat said. “We have the resources we need, the strength of spirit that’s required to confront any challenge that’s on our horizon.”

Gov. Phil Scott announced late last month that Pieciak would step down in May from the administration “to pursue other opportunities.” Pieciak was coy at the time about his plans, although rumors immediately spread in political circles about a possible run for office. 

He is the first candidate to announce a bid for the open treasurer’s post. Beth Pearce, who has served as treasurer since 2011, announced Wednesday that a recent cancer diagnosis had prompted her to change course and not to run for reelection this year.

Michael Pieciak announces his candidacy for state treasurer during a press conference in Montpelier on Friday, May 6, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Pearce, who said earlier this week that she would support a candidate on the condition that they were willing to defend the state’s pension system from efforts to push workers into 401(k)-style retirement plans, arrived side-by-side with Pieciak at his press conference and introduced him. 

She told the assembled crowd of supporters and press that she was endorsing him due to his technical acumen and ability to work collaboratively and find consensus on difficult issues. 

Pieciak was her go-to consultant for questions about insurance and even “came to (her) rescue on a number of actuarial issues,” she said. Pearce credited Pieciak for his work on a special legislative task force that wrote the blueprint for a major retirement system reform bill passed by lawmakers this session.

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the resulting bill, S.286, last week, arguing it did not go far enough. The Republican said any reform needed to include a risk-sharing provision, and — chief among his demands — a “defined contribution,” or 401(k)-style retirement plan, as an option for new employees.

Pearce, who is responsible for administering the state’s public pensions as treasurer, was strenuously opposed to the concept, arguing it would further destabilize the pensions. Democratic leadership in the Legislature faulted Scott for sitting out the pension debate for over a year before coming in with major demands at the 11th hour.

The Senate unanimously overrode the governor’s veto on Wednesday, and the House followed suit Friday morning. S.286 will now become law.

“I supported the original plan and continue to support it because ensuring our public servants have dignity in retirement should be our top priority,” Pieciak said Friday. “Making sure these recommendations that will soon become law are smoothly put into action will be a top priority for me if I'm fortunate enough to be elected treasurer.”

Another controversial pension issue awaits Pieciak if he prevails: whether to divest the state’s retirement system from fossil fuel companies. Pearce has historically resisted calls to divest. Pieciak said Friday that the last time the issue was studied, a report from the treasurer’s office had found divestment could hurt the pension’s returns.

“We need to have a study that shows that it's for the benefit of the pensioners. We don't have that right now. But I would certainly be in favor of doing that kind of study,” he said.

Pieciak said that he would also like the Securities and Exchange Commission to move forward with proposed rules that would require publicly traded companies to disclose their climate impact.

A holdover from Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration, Pieciak held the top job at the Department of Financial Regulation since 2016, overseeing a staff of about 100 people tasked with regulating and monitoring Vermont’s financial services and insurance industries. His last day as commissioner was Wednesday.

Michael Pieciak pets his English setter Jetty during a press conference where he announced his candidacy for state treasurer in Montpelier on Friday, May 6, 2022. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Pieciak first came to the department in 2014. As deputy commissioner of the securities division, he played a central role in the state’s investigation of a series of fraudulent economic development projects funded through the federal EB-5 program.

But while many Vermonters have learned Pieciak’s name in recent years, it has likely not been because of his duties as a regulator. The former corporate attorney took on a prominent role in the Scott administration’s Covid-19 response, appearing weekly at the governor’s livestreamed press conferences to update Vermonters on the state’s latest pandemic modeling.

This is Pieciak’s first run for elected office, but he is not a campaign neophyte. He ran then-Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s successful reelection campaign in 2012 when Sorrell faced a tough primary challenge from TJ Donovan, then serving as Chittenden County state’s attorney. Sorrell stood alongside other supporters behind Pieciak as the candidate took to the podium. 

Pieciak was born and raised in Brattleboro and went to Union College in Schenectady, New York, for his undergraduate degree. He then went to the University of Miami in Florida for law school, and later took a job in New York City specializing in mergers and acquisitions at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, one of the country’s largest corporate law firms.

He returned to Vermont in 2011 and worked at Downs Rachlin Martin in Burlington before joining the Department of Financial Regulation. Pieciak lives with his partner Will Holder.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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