Contreras takes aim at Missouri State Treasurer’s office

Pat Contreras is taking his Westside roots, enriching them with his business and economics education, and pruning them with his work experience at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce as he makes his run for Missouri state treasurer.

The statewide election is scheduled for November 2016. Contreras declared his candidacy in April and is running as a Democrat. This is his first run for public office.

Missouri State Sen. Eric Schmitt, a St. Louis Republican, also declared his candidacy for the office, in 2014. Democrat Clint Zweifel is the state’s current treasurer and is serving his second-consecutive term, after which he’ll be term-limited out of office.

The state treasurer directs banking services and manages and invests the state’s $3.6 billion investment portfolio, according to the agency’s website. Zweifel currently oversees $25 billion in annual state spending.

Contreras is 34. He grew up on the Westside and Westport, and lives in Kansas City near the Truman Sports Complex. On June 24, he and his campaign team left Kansas City on a five-day, 1,200-mile trip across Missouri to meet voters.

“We had a great trip around the state and we’re looking forward to doing it again,” he told Kansas City Hispanic News. “We were a fantastic trio and we were able to engage voters in different parts of the state.”

Contreras and his team traveled first to Columbia and then to St. Louis, the Lake of the Ozarks, back to St. Louis, then to Dexter, back to St. Louis again and then back to Kansas City.

Asked what people he met on the trip had told him was important to them, Contreras said, “One thing that really stood out for me was that people in Missouri are ready for new leadership. They’re excited about the future of the party. They’re looking to young leaders … (to bring) good government and ethics reform and rebuilding trust in government.”

He said that a number of reasons prompted him to run for the office. “I’ve always asked myself where I can have the most impact, and I’ve always been a proponent of working hard and helping others,” he said. “Throughout my career, I’ve always wanted to find ways to continue to serve my community. … At the end of the day, I look at my background at the State Department in leadership roles and as a trained economist, and I see perfect synergies … to help the treasurer’s office to be more effective and impactful for as many Missourians as possible.”

Several changes need to be made in the treasurer’s office, Contreras said, including the implementation of a financial-literacy platform.

“I think that the treasurer’s office has a symbolic role and responsibility, in addition to being the chief finance officer for state of Missouri, as an advocate for working families and helping them with their bottom line,” he told Hispanic News. “Instead of payday loans, savings accounts. And finding new ways to partner with banks around the state in these financial deserts.”

St. Louis has the largest number of people with no bank accounts of any major American city, Contreras said, citing a May article on theguardian.com. He said that St. Louis also had “a lack of banks reaching out to these communities … hence the need for financial literacy.”

“It hurts our economy when they’re not able to save more and buy more,” he said. “I could work with banks that could, for example, offer check cashing at no cost and help people build a credit history. I grew up in neighborhoods in Kansas City in which people didn’t make smart financial decisions and sometimes had to get emergency payday loans at exorbitant interest rates. I’ve seen the struggles firsthand, I understand them, and I’ve studied them.”

Kansas City Mayor Sly James endorsed Contreras, saying in a written statement that he “exemplifies the real world experience and energetic leadership we need in the state Treasurer’s office. … Pat is exactly who the Democrats need on the statewide ticket. He will be a great candidate and a great treasurer for us.”

Contreras is a volunteer member of the Jackson County Veterans Task Force, appointed by County Executive Mike Sanders. He is campaigning full time. Immediately prior to his campaign launch, he worked as an education and technology consultant.

He studied business and economics as an undergraduate at St. Louis University. Afterward, he worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He moved back to St. Louis for a Coro fellowship, received a master’s degree in health policy and public administration at Columbia University and joined the U.S. Foreign Service doing two tours of duty in Pakistan and one in Mexico. He worked in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Department of Commerce on economic-development issues.

Carlos Gomez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, told Hispanic News that late last year he’d started getting to know Contreras well.

“He’s someone who’s positive, and he has a lot of energy,” Gomez said. “This is a guy who gets things done. He likes to solve problems. His background has really prepared him for this. He’s used to solving problems for businesses in other countries. If an American business was having a roadblock in a foreign country that he was assigned to, he would help that business get to their goal.

He’s used to government systems and finding solutions within those systems. He’s someone who has a vision and he’s very active in the community. This is not about putting a Hispanic in office; this is about putting the right person in office, and he just happens to be Hispanic.”

Contreras’ mother, Lola Rocha, wrote in an email to Hispanic News that she was “the first person to endorse Pat.”

“I’d like to think I endorsed Pat long ago, whether it was when he would organize local blood drives, or was a leader in his high school’s diversity training program or when he went off to Pakistan as a Foreign Service officer to work on improving our national security,” Rocha said. “I knew he was going to do big things. Donate to Pat because his mom asked you.”