OLYMPIA – State Auditor Brian Sonntag, the longest-serving state executive in office, will retire at the end of next year from a 20-year stint as head of the office that keeps an eye on the other government offices.
Sonntag, a Democrat, surprised members of both parties Monday in announcing he wouldn’t run for another term in 2012. He was briefly mentioned earlier this year as a candidate for governor, although he declined to get into a primary battle against U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee or a general election race against likely GOP nominee Rob McKenna.
Now he says he’s made the difficult decision not to run for auditor, either.
“It was a tough decision, but it is the right decision,” Sonntag said in an email to The Spokesman-Review. “I will have served 20 years in this office and 40 years in public service – 35 in elected office. Based on what we have accomplished and what we will continue to do in behalf of the citizens, the 2012 election is the right time for the office to transition to new leadership.”
Sonntag was the Pierce County auditor in 1992 when he beat Republican Sam Reed, then the Thurston County auditor, for the state job. He coasted to easy re-election victories every four years after that, in part because of his support of performance audits, which check whether programs are working as planned, earning him the support of many fiscal conservatives.
Republicans had not begun a serious search for a candidate to challenge Sonntag, state GOP spokesman Josh Amato said Monday: “We liked what Brian was doing. We weren’t working on taking him out of office.”
With the office open, however, Republicans expect to have qualified candidates willing to run, Amato said.
State Democrats praised Sonntag for his years of service. But they don’t have any candidates at the ready, either.
“There are no names at the moment,” state party spokeswoman Reesa Kossoff said Monday afternoon. “We’re looking forward to a spirited campaign and keeping the seat in Democratic hands.”
Sonntag’s announcement brings to four the number of statewide executive seats that will be open. Governor Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed are also retiring, and Attorney General McKenna is running for governor.