YAKIMA – Let’s face it: State auditor is not the sexiest gig.
The auditor is the hall monitor of state government – a position meant to ensure that everyone acts responsibly, but one not particularly well-loved by other government agencies. And just three people have held the office since 1933, adding to the snooze factor.
Auditor Brian Sonntag is retiring after 20 years, and the race to replace him is a wide-open affair among three Democratic lawmakers and a Republican businessman from Redmond. The two candidates with the most votes in the Aug. 7 primary advance to the November election.
The state auditor promotes efficiency and openness in state and local government, conducting financial and performance audits and holding agencies accountable to open government laws.
Four strong candidates stepped up to fill a rare open seat in the office: Reps. Troy Kelley, of Tacoma, and Mark Miloscia, of Federal Way, Sen. Craig Pridemore, of Vancouver, and business development consultant James Watkins, of Redmond.
Kelley and Pridemore, who both have served as chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee, come to the race with vastly different experience.
Early in his career, Kelley worked as an audit team leader for the Securities and Exchange Commission, before working for a title company and then starting his own business that tracks recorded documents.
Pridemore started out at an accounting firm in California, where he oversaw audits, then moved back to Washington to work as a financial analyst for the Clark County Public Works Department and, later, as a Clark County commissioner.
Kelley said he sees opportunities to expand reviews by the auditor’s office, including in areas of cyber security and interstate compacts, an area that could improve public safety and potentially save the state money.
Pridemore said he believes the current scope of the office is good, and said he would work to find a resolution on public records requests that hamper local governments.
Miloscia conducted performance audits of contractors during his military career, when the military was being pointedly criticized for buying $500 hammers, and he said that experience gave him “the bug” to improve government.
Since then, he says, he has audited state agencies, hospitals, colleges and small businesses and is a certified quality examiner.
Watkins, the lone Republican, said he has completed more than 150 performance audits in his professional career, working with major federal agencies, nonprofits and private businesses, and has managed offices of far more people than the 350 employees of the auditor’s office.
But he said the auditor’s job is about “performance, not politics,” and noted that he is the only candidate not in public office.
Sonntag has declined to endorse a candidate, but calls all four candidates “capable” of leading the office.