This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
After two terms as attorney general, Rob McKenna is leaving in hopes of higher state office. Three men are running to replace him as the state’s top law enforcement official: Democrat Bob Ferguson and Republicans Reagan Dunn and Stephen Pidgeon. The top-two vote-getters in the Aug. 7 primary will meet in the Nov. 6 general election.
As the sole Democrat in the race, Ferguson is virtually assured of being one of those two candidates. Even so, Democrats can vote for him without reservations. A bright, thoughtful attorney with a civil litigation background, he has served three terms on the King County Council. The Seattle resident will be a strong opponent in the general election for whichever Republican makes it through the primary.
Voters preferring a Republican candidate should choose Maple Valley resident Dunn – also a member of the King County Council. He has been a prosecutor and assistant U.S. attorney as well as a civil litigator.
According to the Seattle Times, Dunn’s Republican opponent, Everett attorney Stephen Pidgeon, is an extremist “birther” who contends President Obama is a Muslim determined to destroy the United States.
Pidgeon told a conservative radio show interviewer that if Obama is re-elected, “You will be under the tyranny of the iron fist of an Islamic caliphate.” Such outlandish rhetoric is an indication that Pidgeon is utterly ill-equipped to be state attorney general.
Dunn is a moderate, mainstream Republican much in the mold of his late mother, 8th District Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn. He and Ferguson are superior candidates.
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In an era of severely squeezed government budgets, the state auditor’s office is becoming increasingly important.
The deservedly popular Brian Sonntag, who’s stepping down after a long tenure, has shown how the office can be used as a bully pulpit to pressure public agencies into deploying their funding more effectively.
Sonntag has become synonymous with the performance audit, a financial review that doesn’t just look at the legality and prudence of expenditures, but also at whether the spending is translating into the right results – whether the agency is doing its job well.
That kind of scrutiny is urgent when money is scarce and public services are threatened by tight budgets.
A recent state audit, for example, scrutinized the way school districts were spending their money. It found that 61 percent of the Tacoma school budget was spent on actual classroom teaching – a number roughly in line with the state average. It also found big disparities in what districts spend on teacher and student support. This is important stuff to know.
Four candidates are competing to replace Sonntag. They’re all at least reasonably qualified for the job.
One of them – James Watkins of Redmond – is the only Republican in the field. For dedicated Republicans, he’s pretty much it.
Each of the three Democrats – Mark Miloscia, Troy Kelley and Craig Pridemore – also has the potential to do well. They all have financial experience and have demonstrated personal competence.
Kelley represents the 28th District (Lakewood, University Place and the JBLM area) and Miloscia the 30th District (Federal Way area) in the state House of Representatives. Pridemore represents the 49th District (Vancouver) in the state Senate.
Pridemore has the roaring support of the Democratic Party – not necessarily a recommendation, given what should be the apolitical and technical nature of the auditor’s office.
In any case, Miloscia and Kelley are the standouts. Both have the background and education for the job; as legislators, both have shown a keen interest in the effectiveness of state spending.
Although Kelley would be an excellent choice, we tilt towards Miloscia because he has focused ferociously on agency performance – often battling other Democrats in the process – since he arrived in the Legislature in 1999.
For him, getting the most out of limited tax dollars is a cause, a career and a crusade. That kind of fire promises to make him a worthy successor to Sonntag.