FRIDAY, OCT. 26, 2012

Editorial: Watkins better choice to succeed Sonntag

After this election, no incumbent state executive will be more missed than departing Auditor Brian Sonntag.

In part, that is a reflection of the respect Sonntag earned during his 20 years of checking state and local government accounts. He is a Democrat, but no one doubted his impartiality.

His reputation has been magnified by the toxic contest between his would-be successors, Republican James Watkins and Democrat Troy Kelley. These two may be able to count, but apparently they have not figured out the damage they are doing their chances of preserving the nonpartisanship of the office to which they aspire.

We endorse Watkins because Kelley has not been as open as we would like regarding litigation stemming from his business, which processes mortgage paperwork. The lawsuits have been settled and, as Kelley points out, no crimes were alleged, no liens filed, nor complaints made with any bar association. But he has not been willing to release pertinent court documents, even after one of the plaintiffs was willing to open the seal.

Also disturbing is a money trail of accounts that at one time passed through Belize, where any assets would have been beyond the reach of U.S. courts. That account was closed after relatively little money was deposited.

But Kelley also has a record of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as an audit team leader, and he remains a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the Washington National Guard. He has served six years in the Legislature, chairing the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, and acting as vice chairman of the House Business and Financial Institutions Committee.

Kelley says the security of the state’s computer systems will be a top priority, as will a review of interstate compacts. Both tasks need doing – urgently.

Watkins, too, has worked for the government. He was aboard at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as it wound down the cleanup of the savings and loan crisis in the early 1990s. Since then, he has been a consultant and manager for Microsoft. He ran for Congress in 2010 against Jay Inslee as a tea party Republican.

Watkins says he will increase the number of performance audits done by the Auditor’s Office. Such audits focus on how efficiently a government entity is run, not on the bookkeeping, which financial audits address. Watkins was claiming to have done more than 150 performance audits, but backed off that assertion when told Sonntag’s office had done only one-third that number over several years. Some of Watkins’ “audits” then became “engagements.”

Our biggest concern is the tone Watkins has injected into this campaign, and his 2010 run at Inslee. Politics isn’t fair, but audits must be so. Watkins will have to bottle up the bile and set aside some of the positions he took on social issues two years ago, if he wants to maintain the regard the Auditor’s Office gained under Sonntag, who has declined to endorse him or Kelley.

If we had our druthers, we would be endorsing Sonntag for a sixth term. Since we cannot, we support Watkins.

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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