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Washington state auditor race deserves attention
Published 10/18/2012 6:00:00 AM
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The Washington state auditor campaign is not sexy, constantly Tweeted or parodied on Saturday Night Live, but don’t let this convince you it doesn’t matter.

Compared to the presidential election the auditor race will address more, including funds for public universities.

The state auditor ensures taxpayer dollars are spent effectively by examining government operations and eliminating fraud or inefficiencies. An active auditor can cut down on waste in the government and help lessen reductions elsewhere in the budget. Those freed-up funds can then go to institutions dependent on them, like WSU.

The state auditor candidate James Watkins will streamline government processes better than his main challenger, Troy Kelley, and he will retain as much money as possible for WSU.

In an interview with Watkins on Tuesday, his answers were refreshingly candid. He validated his qualifications and character.

Although Watkins is running as a Republican, he emphasized that party affiliation plays a relatively minor role in the auditor race for both candidates and voters. Look at retiring State Auditor Brian Sonntag, who enjoyed multi-party popularity throughout his 20-year term, as an example.

“We have the opportunity to make the government run as efficiently as a business. That’s not a partisan goal, that’s a good government goal,” Watkins said.

This election is unique because it downplays political parties while promoting transparency. After all, the auditor’s main role is to make sure the government does not waste tax dollars and communicates information to the public.

When it comes to transparency, Watkins and Kelley operate in different universes.

Volunteers for Watkins’ campaign found court documents featuring Kelley in the midst of several lawsuits, all of which Kelley settled out of court just days before trial. They also found a former employer accused Kelley of theft and Old Republic Title Company accused him of misappropriation of funds

While Old Republic Title agreed to release the amount Kelley paid to settle the suit, Kelley refused to do the same. He also has no information regarding any of the allegations on his website.

Politics is a distasteful game, and I do not agree with the way the Watkins’ campaign released these documents in a sensationalized manner on their website.

However, I find Kelley’s refusal to release information far more disturbing considering he is a candidate who looks “to promote transparency in our government,” according to his website.

Both candidates are qualified: they have extensive experience in conducting successful audits in either the public or private sector and have managed large teams of auditors throughout their careers.

But, when it comes to a position that relies heavily on public trust, experience is only half of the equation. As Sonntag proved, popularity and effectiveness depends on open communication between Washington taxpayers and their government. I don’t believe Kelley is the man for the job.

When asked about the recent allegations aimed at Kelley, Watkins seemed reluctant to respond.

“I try to focus on the ideas central to my own campaign, so that voters can get a picture of my goals and priorities if elected,” he said.

He felt that mindless bickering in a campaign detracts from the issues, but the fact the mainstream media failed to uncover Kelley’s dodgy history was detrimental to voters.

I agree.

The auditor race matters, even if it receives minimal attention from media outlets. Students who suffer from university budget cuts have a chance to pick a candidate who will minimize government spending and leave more money for education.

I will cast my vote for James Watkins next month, but every voter needs to take their duty in the auditor race seriously.  

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