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Fri., July 27, 2012

Editorial: Watkins, Kelley best choices for state auditor

For 20 years, the name behind the title Washington State Auditor has been that of Brian Sonntag.

For the 28 years prior to 1992, the name was that of Bob Graham.

The job may not come with the word “lifetime” attached, but auditor is clearly a position in which incumbents endure. So when Washington voters elect a new auditor this fall, they will want to get it right. In a field of four candidates, we think they can do so with either James Watkins or Rep. Troy Kelley.

The state auditor reviews the books of every government agency in Washington; cities, counties, school and port districts – more than 1,000 in total. You might recall, for example, an audit released in November that found the state wasted almost $2 million on cellphones that were underused, or not used at all.

In 2005, by passing Initiative 900, voters authorized performance audits that examine the efficiency of government operations, where improvements can be made, what programs agencies could share, and what might be better done by the private sector.

The Auditor’s Office is also the enforcer of Washington open government laws.

Unfortunately, the election for auditor remains partisan. But Sonntag, a Democrat, as was Graham before him, has kept a steady, nonpartisan course during his administration, and his office is regarded as one of the nation’s best.

We question how well candidates Sen. Craig Pridemore and Rep. Mark Miloscia, both Democratic legislators, would maintain the nonpartisan reputation.

Miloscia speaks enthusiastically about the potential for performance audits – his strong suit – to restore public faith in government. Although he took on Gov. Chris Gregoire when she suspended state agency quality management assessments, he told King County Democrats his second priority as auditor would be “reversing the wage inequality gap caused by the war on unions and the middle class.”

That’s not the auditor’s job, nor is addressing other of society’s social ills, as Pridemore suggests he might do.

Kelley, also a Democratic lawmaker, has chaired the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee, as has Pridemore. Miloscia is a member. Kelley’s experience includes a stint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and he owns a business. He says one of his priorities would be an audit of interstate compacts governing adult prisoners.

Kelley has angered his opponents by implying an endorsement by Sonntag, who spoke well of him two years ago but is making no endorsements in this race.

Watkins, the lone Republican in the race, has experience with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Microsoft. He does performance audits for a living. An endorsement from Toby Nixon, president of the Coalition for Open Government, is a valuable testimonial to Watkins’ commitment to assuring public access to government documents.

Instead of allowing the Legislature to sweep extra funds out of the office, which is largely funded by fees, Watkins says he would use the money to help local governments pay their share of audit costs.

Good idea. We look forward to hearing more from Watkins and Kelley in the general election.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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