WASHINGTON, D.C.-- Aaron ‘Ronnie’ Chatterji, a tenured Associate Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, who previously served as a Senior Economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, who is running for Treasurer of North Carolina in 2020, has emerged as the leading Democratic candidate to take on the current incumbent, Republican Dale Folwell, who was elected to the position in 2016.
Folwell, who was sworn into office on January 1, 2017 after beating Democrat Dan Blue by 52.75 percent to 47.25 percent, and is expected to run again in 2020.
At the end of the most recent reporting period, Chatterji had raised more funds than all of his Democratic opponents and beating out even Folwell, and with $355,000 raised so far, he is ahead of his opponents by a seven to one margin.
The North Carolina Treasurer is an elected executive position in the state government, who serves as the state’s chief financial officer and official banker for the state. The treasurer's office manages the state's retirement system, investments, and unclaimed property, and provides financial support to local governments.
It’s one of the most powerful elected positions in the state, managing the $90 billion pension fund and state employee health care system, and Chatterji on the campaign trail has argued that he’s leveraging his academic experience, government service and business consulting work and hence can do the job better than anyone else.
He has said that “we need to do a better job harnessing the power and impact of the state government to improve people’s lives in a direct and positive way.”
Chatterji, who in declaring his intent in May, was the first candidate to announce his run, while basing his campaign out of hometown of Durham, has in the past few months been traveling across the state, including Greensboro, Charlotte, and Greenville.
He said that his primary goal is to explain to voters what the Treasurer does and why it is important.
“What’s most fun about this campaign is that most people do not know much about what the Treasurer does,” Chatterji said. “But when they hear about all the responsibilities of the office, they get really excited about how we can do to improve North Carolina.”
The primary is scheduled for Super Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020 and a massive turnout is expected to vote in the Democratic Presidential primary, among other key state races including Treasurer.
Longtime North Carolina political and community activist Bharat Vedak, who is the co-chair of the North Carolina Indian American Political Action Committee (NCINPAC) told India Abroad that “our PAC recently co-sponsored a fundraiser for him and wrote a check for his campaign. I have made a personal contribution to his campaign as well.”
Vedak said, “We are thoughtfully advising him of opportunities to showcase his background to the Indian American community - such as The India Independence Day event, NCINPAC’s fundraiser event for the North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein etc.”
“The Treasurer role is more of an apolitical role, but requires skills, moral values and integrity which Ronnie brings to the table. He has a stellar academic background with teaching experience at two great universities- Duke and Harvard. His work in the Obama Administration provides him good political background,” he noted.
Vedak said, “We need more young, energetic and knowledgeable people to seek important elected offices. One look at the woes of state treasuries like Illinois helps us understand what it means to have capable elected officials, and so, I am thankful that Ronnie and his family is willing to make that sacrifice, and I unequivocally support Ronnie.”
Satish Garimella, Council Member of the town of Morrisville, which boasts of one of the highest Indian American populations in North Carolina, told India Abroad that “I see Ronnie as a person who will listen to the people and use this expertise from his vast experience to manage our state pension plans well.”
Chatterji is an alumnus of the Washington Leadership Program (Class of 1999), conceived and sponsored by the founder and erstwhile publisher of India Abroad—the late Gopal Raju—who ran WLP for over 15 years. Chatterji, as a WLP scholar interned with Rep. Elliot Engel (D.-N.Y.), now the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In May, when he declared his intent to run, Chatterji told India Abroad that he had decided to run for Treasurer driven by “my long-standing passion for policy, business, and public service.”
He acknowledged that “my research and teaching have led me directly to this decision. I love the work I do, and I believe that rigorous analysis is the foundation of good policy.”
Chatterji added, “My public service, from working at the White House Council of Economic Advisers to volunteering on political campaigns, has taught me that translating good analysis into clear and concise language and engaging stakeholders is essential too.”
“The final piece of the puzzle is that dedicated and practical people need to run for office and get elected,” he argued, and while acknowledging that “the financial and personal sacrifice required keeps most of us away,” said, “But after many discussions with family and friends, I have decided that some of us must try and that I’m going to go for it.”
Chatterji explained, “North Carolina’s Treasurer has important responsibilities that overlap with my academic and policy experience,” and pointed out that “the Treasurer manages the state’s $95 billion retirement system and the $3 billion state employee health plan.”
“Unlike most states where a board of elected and appointed officials perform these functions, in North Carolina, it is the state Treasurer who has this responsibility. Who that person is matters and their background and preparation can make a difference,” he said.
Consequently, Chatterji said, “I aim to leverage my research and practical experience on issues like health care innovation, socially responsible investing and corporate governance to serve my state as its next Treasurer,” although it’s not lost on him that if he wins the Democratic nomination, he would be up against a powerful and entrenched GOP establishment bent on holding on to this office.
During his tenure with the CEA at the White House, Chatterji worked on a range of policies relating to entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic growth, and after leaving the Obama administration and joining the faculty of Duke University’s business school and continued to research and teach some of these important forces shaping the U.S. and global economy, and has been regularly published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
In 2014-2015 academic year, he was on leave at Harvard Business School, and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Previously, before joining the Obama administration, he worked as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs.
Chatterji received his Ph.D from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. in economics and international relations from Cornell University.
From the time he did the WLP internship, Chatterji has continued to be a political activist and in 2008 he was a key organizer in North Carolina for Obama, and in previous interviews with India Abroad, would always acknowledge the profound impact this program had in his activism and public service.