Kimberly Yee has made Arizona history twice. She was the first Asian American elected to the state Legislature and the first Asian American to hold statewide office.
Yee is running for re-election as state treasurer, an office she has held since 2018. In that job, she invests taxpayer money, manages the state’s cash flow and land investment fund and advances financial literacy.
Yee initially decided not to run for reelection, and instead put her hat in the ring as a candidate for governor in 2022. She eventually dropped out, and went on to win a contested Republican primary to seek re-election as treasurer.
An Arizona native, Yee first entered politics in California, where she attended college. She served on the state’s Board of Education and in the administration of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar.
After returning to Arizona, she was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2010, then to the state Senate, where she briefly served as majority leader.
She’s running against Democrat Martín Quezada, a long-time member of the Legislature.
A self-described conservative, Yee received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and is on record opposing the teaching of critical race theory, a philosophy not taught in Arizona K-12 schools.
She is currently registered as a small business owner alongside her husband, Nelson Mar, a dentist who has a practice in Litchfield Park.
During her first political run for the Legislature, consultants suggested she use her husband’s surname instead of her own in campaign materials, according to an article in Roll Call. The idea was to minimize her Chinese heritage, even though her husband is also of Chinese descent, according to the article. Yee declined.
In an interview for Cronkite News, Yee said she’s proud to share her “American dream story” to encourage the next generation. She also spoke about her priorities and how she runs her office.
Q: Why are you interested in this job?
“The state treasurer position is such an important position. It’s important to have somebody who has a proven record of making policies that protect Arizona taxpayers. In the time that I have been treasurer, I have built local government investment relationships by going to every county in the state of Arizona and personally meeting with leaders—from mayors to local council members.”
Bringing together fiscal experts and elected officials produced a “more up-to-date understanding” of where the state invests taxpayer funds, she said.
Although local governments don’t have to invest taxpayer funds with the state, Yee said many have chosen to do so, leading to a growth in investments of more than 75% during her time as state treasurer.
“The numbers have shown not only a strong performance under my leadership, but the need to continue that effort, especially in a time when we are seeing inflationary rates.”
Q: What in your past work, political or volunteer experience makes you the best candidate?
Yee is from a long line of business owners stretching back to the 1930s, when her grandparents immigrated to Arizona and opened a grocery store.
“Coming from a small business background, you understand not only how to manage an organization, but beyond that, you understand how it affects your employees and your consumers. In this case (the treasurer’s office), the consumer is the taxpayer.”
While in the Legislature, Yee pushed to make government spending more transparent, such as requiring public bodies to post their budgets online for easy public access.
“Any time a body passed a public budget, it had to be loaded on to the website. It couldn’t be more than three clicks away from the homepage, meaning it wasn’t lost in the weeds.”
The Arizona Treasury maintains a transparency website that allows taxpayers to see where money is spent at every level of government.
Q: What are the major issues facing Arizona?
More businesses came to the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, a result of the state remaining comparatively open, Yee said. That led to an increase in population, which led to a housing shortage.
On top of that, inflation and high gas prices are hurting family finances, she said.
Part of her job is to help Arizonans become more financially literate. They need to understand “the importance of financial money management, from balancing your checkbook to creating a budget,” Yee said, adding that she supported a bill that allows people on government subsidies to take a course on financial education.
“I believe that if we have smart money management in the home, it is a direct correlation to the fiscal health of the state of Arizona.”
Q: How will you work to improve bipartisanship in politics?
Yee said she consistently worked with both parties while a legislator.
“I would often have co-sponsors, and it would be a bipartisan bill.”
Q: Do you have any concerns about the security of our elections?
“The conversations we’re having today are not new. But they are certainly something that we have to address in order for voters – whether you’re Republican or Democrat – to feel that their vote is secure and is only counted once.”
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She remembers when, as a state senator, she learned about a man who had knocked on someone’s door claiming to work for the Maricopa County Elections Department and offered to take the resident’s ballot to the mailbox. The man was not an employee of the county elections department. This led to laws restricting the number of ballots that a single person can carry to the polls, she said.
Q: When it comes to investing Arizona’s money, what would be your most important criteria? Should political considerations be part of the calculus? For example, should the state take into account a company’s use of low-wage workers or invest in a company that boycotts Israel?
Yee said her philosophy has always been “Safety before liquidity before yield.”
“We do not take political considerations under advisement when we make investments.”
Q: What role, if any, should ESG rankings play in investment decisions?
Yee believes that environmental, social, and governance standards, which are used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments, are “inappropriate for the investment room.” Her office recently adopted a policy that it would not take ESG into consideration in any investment decision.
“I don’t believe that we should mix politics with the taxpayers’ money. The statement that we adopted ensures that our office will prioritize safely investing these dollars over politically motivated agendas.”
Q: What is a personal challenge you need to overcome?
Juggling the demands of office life and parenthood can be challenging, but it’s also “something that I believe women should be proud of,” Yee said.
“I don’t see these as personal challenges. I see them as success stories.”
Q: Please share a quote or advice that you live by.
“Always tell the truth.”