Election 2018: Minnesota State Auditor

This is a statewide race. The Minnesota State Auditor’s office audits local governments and counties. They have a FAQ but it’s pretty technical. The office has existed since before Minnesota was technically even a state; despite being fairly low-profile, it’s been a springboard to higher office for a number of people who’ve served in that role, including Arne Carlson and Mark Dayton. Judi Dutcher ran for Lieutenant Governor after serving as auditor, as Mike Hatch’s running mate, but lost; current Auditor Rebecca Otto tried for the governorship this year but dropped out after not receiving the DFL endorsement.

I think that this job may have worked so well for Arne and Mark (and Judi came really close — if Hatch hadn’t called a reporter a “Republican whore” after Judi muffed a question on E85, she’d probably have gotten to the Lieutenant Governorship, although arguably Auditor is a better job anyway) in part because done right, it’s really apolitical. We can argue across party lines about how tax money ought to be spent, but none of us — I hope? — is going to defend graft and blatant waste, which is what auditors are generally looking for. So you get to spend 4+ years doing things that basically everyone in the state, if they notice you’re doing it, is probably going to approve of.

Weirdly, Rebecca Otto managed to really piss me off. My older daughter used to do Junior Roller Derby, which for years had practice space at the Minneapolis National Guard Armory. They abruptly lost their practice space when (I found out quite some time later) Rebecca Otto told them they could no longer rent out the facility after normal business hours. Why? I still don’t know! I sent her two e-mail messages and got no response at all, ever. (It’s still not 100% clear to me why this was even something she oversaw.)

This is also one of the jobs where in the past I voted for a Republican. I quite liked Judi Dutcher and voted for her in 1998. (She then switched to the DFL in 2000, sensibly enough.)

To add to the overall confusion about what this person actually does, in 2015 a law got passed saying that counties could opt to hire private auditing firms instead of using the State Auditor. This makes me nervous, although the larger counties have been allowed to hire private auditors for years. More than half of Minnesota counties opted for private firms to do this in 2016 (probably in part because it’s cheaper.) Rebecca Otto sued over this and lost. So what’s even going to happen with this office? Are they likely to ditch it completely, like they ditched the office of the State Treasurer? Do we actually need a State Auditor overseeing all this stuff or is it reasonable to just require counties to have an auditor come in? Several candidates talked about this but I did not come away feeling exactly enlightened.

Anyway. On the ballot:

Chris Dock (Libertarian)
Pam Myhra (Republican)
Julie Blaha (DFL)
Michael Ford (Legal Marijuana Now)

Michael Ford (Legal Marijuana Now)

Per his website, here’s his agenda:

-Legalize home grown Cannabis
-Erase past Cannabis Convictions
-Ban Employment drug testing for Cannabis

His party’s website adds:

Michael Ford has a background in graphic design and is well-known as an advocate of cannabis legalization from his social media reach as well as his role with MN-NORML.

Mr. Ford has been the chairman of the Legal Marijuana Now party since 2016.

His agenda has absolutely zero to do with the job of the auditor, and being a great social media advocate for weed does not strike me as any sort of qualification. NEXT.

Chris Dock (Libertarian)

Chris Dock is running for the actual job. On his website, he says that he worked for accounting and consulting firms before starting his own firm in 1998, and that he’s worked as a “technology, Human Resources, and investment consultant for over 30 years.” Per LinkedIn, he sounds like he does mostly HR-related consulting.

His page has two video ads. He thinks he’s funnier than he actually is. Here’s the WCCO voter’s guide for him. The best point he makes is that this really should be a nonpartisan job, so electing someone who’s neither a Democrat or a Republican isn’t a bad idea. The problem is that I know enough about Libertarianism to distrust his working definition of “waste,” especially since he doesn’t really get into the weeds of what type of libertarian he is.

Pam Myrha (Republican)

Pam has an unusual and appealing qualification for a state auditor: she’s actually an accountant, although looking at her resume, it doesn’t look like she’s actually worked as an accountant since 1986. (She notes on her campaign website that she “put her career on hold” to have a family and homeschool her kids, and you can see that on her resume as well, where she lists a seventeen-year job teaching at “Forest Hill Christian Academy.” She worked as an accountant for almost seven years back in the 1980s.

This really is a job where party shouldn’t matter and a Republican is a job where Republicans can plausibly do a good job — but at this point, a Republican has a steep hill to climb to get my trust, and I do not trust Pam Myrha.

Her endorsements are from the GOP, Rudy Boschwitz, and something called the Freedom Club, which is not only ultra-ultra-conservative but for very wealthy ultra-conservative people (annual memberships start at $3000, and this isn’t the sort of club that comes with a pool or a golf course.) If I’m considering crossing over to vote for a Republican, I find it greatly reassuring if they can dig up a few Democrats or Independents to endorse them.

She is a former state legislator. While in the legislature, she was the author of a bill to require students in Minnesota schools to take an online course of some kind in order to graduate. The MinnPost education reporter Beth Hawkins saw ALEC’s involvement:

Consider, for example, Tennessee’s adoption last year of the Virtual Public Schools Act, model legislation created by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the super-secretive, super-conservative group which has birthed much of the nearly identical anti-labor legislation that has swept through statehouses nation-wide over the last two years. […]

Lawmakers are treated to expenses-paid policy confabs at ritzy resort destinations where they are given model bills drafted by private-sector participants. […]

Last fall, Rep. Myhra confirmed to the late, lamented Minnesota Independent that she is an ALEC member. Indeed, she sits on its tax and fiscal policy task force.

Having watched a kid take an online class, their primary purpose at the high school level seems to be to provide the widest, lowest possible hoop for kids to jump through to complete a graduation requirement. I’m not saying they’re a bad thing to have available, but I can think of zero reason to implement a statewide requirement saying that high school students must take something as an online class. Unless you’re the crony of the people selling online classes.

In 2013, Myrha hosted an anti-unionization event during the push to unionize childcare workers. And it’s clear from her Twitter feed and press coverage that she is a Republican’s Republican.

And this is too bad, because it does seem like a CPA would be a good person to have in the job (although not critical: we’ve had a number of good auditors, and not one has been a CPA). She’s also talked about digging through the statutes on the Auditor job and discovering that when the State Treasurer job was eliminated, they rolled some of the responsibilities over to the Auditor without considering the conflicts this might create.

If you’ve like to see her WCCO responses, they’re here. There’s a video of her giving a long interview on a show called Republican Round Table here.

Julie Blaha (DFL)

If Pam is a Republican’s Republican, Julie is a Democrat’s Democrat. She’s a union organizer (for Education Minnesota and the AFL-CIO) and a former middle-school math teacher (10+ years in the classroom). Here’s a piece about her from 2014. She has a long list of endorsements: DFL, all the unions, lots of local DFLers.

Somewhere (possibly that video on the Republican Round Table?) I saw Pam talking about Julie’s math teaching experience in a really dismissive way. I found that both off-putting and unfair. There are multiple pieces to the Auditor’s job; you need to audit, but you also need to communicate. Transparency doesn’t mean much if the information is incomprehensible. If someone’s taught math to middle schoolers, then they (hopefully) know how to communicate this stuff in a meaningful way. And with the job of actually doing the audits increasingly moving to private firms, leaving the State Auditor with overall oversight, this is going to be less an accounting job and more an oversight and communication job, anyway.

And, I’ll just note again: there has never been a CPA in this job. Arne Carlson, Mark Dayton, Judi Dutcher, Rebecca Otto, none of these people were CPAs, and I’m pretty sure all of them were viewed as generally very good at their jobs. Dayton had been a teacher, a CFO, and a legislative aide; Judi Dutcher was a prosecutor; Rebecca Otto was a science teacher and a business owner; I’m not sure what the hell Arne did before getting into politics, but he’d been a state legislator for a while when he ran. I mean, there’s a logic to it! But it’s not like saying, “the Attorney General should really be an actual attorney.” (Which got me curious about Attorneys General who weren’t: the last one was in the 1930s. I find so many bizarre little nuggets of information when I’m researching these, sometimes I just have to share.)

In Julie’s WCCO profile, she says that the first job of the State Auditor is to be an “arbiter of truth,” and that fairly effectively nails why I am so hesitant at this point to trust a Republican (even a well qualified Republican) with the job. Facts shouldn’t be political, and yet here we are.

I like Julie Blaha, and I trust her not to use her office to do something horrifying. (Although, like Rebecca Otto, she may do something that totally pisses me off. I considered e-mailing everyone running about the roller derby issue to see if they had a response, but it’s such an oddball issue that the only reasonable response when you’re running is, “I will have to look into this after I’m elected.”) I’m going to vote for her.

Julie made a crop-art campaign sign and exhibited it this year at the State Fair:

A mosaic made from beans and seeds that says "Bean counter. Literally. BLAHA for State Auditor."

Photo by Tony Webster.

This is not in itself a reason to vote for her, it’s just charming.

 

 

 

 

 

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