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Our primary choices for attorney general, auditor

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on July 9, 2012 at 6:44 pm with 3 Comments »
July 9, 2012 5:50 pm

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.

• • •

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.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. You take it for granted that a candidate for Attorney General will be an attorney, but for Auditor, you take it for granted that the candidates will not be a CPA actually qualified to do financial audits, and the geniuses at the Trib think that’s just fine. Trib-supported Sonntag was a high school graduate, not a CPA. Neither was his predecessor.

    Newspapers like the Trib, and state auditors, like to focus on the popular so-called “performance audits,” which are very good politically for the state auditor.

    Newspapers, like the Trib ignore the geeky underlying financial morass of how existing monies are actually spent.

    Government accounting, because of the budget cycles, is far more complex than accounting systems for private industry. In government accounting, money buckets are divided into “funds,” many of them full of “special revenues” paid into by specific taxpayers for specific purposes. Many of these funds, and similar specific purpose funds, are flush. Then there’s the “General Fund,” which is broke.

    The routine game has been, has always been, to misappropriate money from the special purpose funds into general fund purposes.

    In some cases the technique is simply “smash and grab,” whereby the so-called Office of Financial Management (OFM) simply takes the money from these funds and transfers it to the General Fund

    In most cases however, the process is more indirect. Agencies – at OFM budget direction – charge expenses to the flush funds that are not appropriate to those fund’s purposes. Unrelated salary expenses are the big one, along with shared expense “indirect” expenses like computer technology, personnel support, and so on.

    Some of these funds involve federal money, and under federal law could have severe consequences. Misuse of pension monies, for example, is a direct violation of federal law requiring that these funds be used for the exclusive use of benefits, or lose the federal tax exemption for these funds.

    Governor candidate Mr. Inslee, for example, has publically said he wants to use pension funds to fund speculative startup businesses.

    The state has been routinely laundering money for decades. One of the reasons they can do this is for all practical purposes there is no State Auditor, and never has been.

    Peter Callaghan is in my opinion the brightest newspaper financial light bulb in the Pac NW, so for the Trib to push the irresponsible view that the purpose of the State Auditor’s office is to take over a role more properly performed by the existing Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee is really disappointing.

    The Legislature should be honest about the whole process, rename the Office of Finincial Management the “Office of Fraud and Malfeasance,” and replace the picture of George Washington on the state flag with one of a Maytag washing machine. At least the taxpayers would have a better understanding of how their government actually works.

  2. ChuckSlowe says:

    “One of them ­­– James Watkins of Redmond – is the only Republican in the field. For dedicated Republicans, he’s pretty much it.”

    Is that the best that the Tribune’s Editorial Board could do? After reading your editorial, I am left shaking my head. If you match the experience of each candidate in a head-to-head appraisal, the Democrat candidates are very light in the areas most vital to understanding and successfully managing this position.

    In this instance, being pretty much that Watkins’ professional experience is obviously head & shoulders above the competition. I doubt that the auditor’s office will be finding many $300 toilet seats, etc hidden within the budget. It won’t be that simple. The point is the focus of the office. James Watkins is the only candidate focused on representing the residents of WA State, rather than the special interests from each government agency, office.

    From their comments, the other candidates seem to think that they are working to improve relations with their political cronies rather than increase the efficiencies & effectiveness of the bloated government bureaucracy. Auditing is not a fly-by-night endeavor that you pickup in an evening of tea and crumpets. I would hope that in the future the Editorial Board for the Tacoma Tribune take their duties a bit more seriously. This editorial, in my mind, is an embarrassment.

    This race and others are not about (R)’s and (D)’s, they are about philosophical and professional differences. A Party endorsement in a race such as that of the Auditor should be viewed differently than you might in a legislative race. Problem solving should become part of your editorial policy. You seem to have missed the whole point of the endorsement process in this particular instance.

  3. AmericanAmerican says:

    Chuck Slowe has said what I’m betting a lot of people would say AMEN! because when I read this article it was lacking for any real substantial comments concerning James Watkins’ qualifications which are impressive but instead of any mention of this fact it was left vague with a line one cannot even really tell what is meant. “For dedicated Republicans, he’s pretty much it.” Pretty much what? The only dedicated republican? What? He is an honest caring hard working smart man with the needed background to do the job well and improve the situation we face economically. If anyone can, he can. I also agree that this is not a position which one should give loyalty to any party priority. Loyalty to parties replaced loyalty to the constitution for far too long now and it is hurting us as a nation. The constitution has no sides and neither should we. Thanks to Chuck Slowe for his writing ability as he spoke for me too.

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