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)

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Election 2014: MN State Auditor

State Auditor is an interesting and poorly understood office. They do not do audits of businesses or non-profits; rather, they audit local governments and (I think) school boards. Their office FAQ provides a decent explanation for what they do. Matt Entenza probably should have read that FAQ before he filed.

On the ballot:

PATRICK DEAN – INDEPENDENCE
RANDY GILBERT – REPUBLICAN
REBECCA OTTO – DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR
KEEGAN IVERSEN – LIBERTARIAN PARTY
JUDITH SCHWARTZBACKER – GRASSROOTS – LEGALIZE CANNABIS

Patrick Dean

He starts out by saying that he’s “the guy who’ll stop and give you a jump start when it’s 20 below.” It’s rare to run into that sort of statement on candidate web pages but being neighborly in winter weather came up in the Republican primary debate I linked to the other day. The thing about being the helpful jump-start guy is that apparently these days most newer cars can’t be jump started from another car. (At least, this is what we were told by the guy from AAA after we unsuccessfully tried to jump my minivan from Ed’s car with no luck.) The Republican candidates for Governor focused more on snow removal. Being the guy who’d stop and help push you off a snow berm is also kind of extra evocative, although looking at his picture, I think if he stopped and wanted to help push me out of a drift I’d be reluctant to let him. He’s pretty old and I wouldn’t want him to get hurt.

He then goes on to tell you that “For 19 years I worked in St. Paul, Minnesota and ran a for-profit business for the St. Paul Port Authority. During my time there I found evidence of diversion of pledge funds. I spoke up and that made some very powerful people very, very angry. And then the matter went to litigation and the Supreme Court of Minnesota said I was right. It’s all a matter in the public domain and you can take a look for yourself.” He then links to a Google search: https://www.google.com/search?q=St.+Paul+Port+Authority+876+Bonds&oq=St.+Paul+Port+Authority+876+Bonds&aqs=chrome..69i57.929j0j7&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=122&ie=UTF-8 …which, okay, but I don’t even know what he means by pledge funds and who’d be diverting them, and following the most helpful-looking result to a Star Trib article didn’t make me feel a whole lot more enlightened. I do, however, think that his “made some very powerful people very, very angry” line may possibly be him trying to make himself sound super badass for filing a lawsuit.

That said, he looks at least reasonably qualified and his plans for the job he’s running for appear to involve doing the job he’s running for. He’d probably do okay. (And if your battery goes dead while you’re in downtown St. Paul near the capitol, you’ll know who to call!)

Randy Gilbert

I will note for the record that the State Auditor job is one I’ve actually voted for a Republican for. Admittedly, the Republican in question (Judi Dutcher) changed parties a few years later.

Anyway, given that this guy’s campaign has focused on the fact that Rebecca Otto is not wholeheartedly pro-mining. He has a whole page about mining complete with a picture of himself in front of the Polymet building with two thumbs up.

Yeah, nope.

Rebecca Otto

So one thing I’ll note about Otto is that her opposition to the mines she voted against (in her position on the State Executive committee) was not even environmentally based: “Rebecca is not pro-mining or anti-mining; she is pro-taxpayer. It is part of the State Auditor’s job to watch out for the best interests of Minnesota taxpayers and make certain they are not left holding the bag after a nonferrous mine closes. The State Auditor sits on the State Executive Council, where in 2013 she voted against the approval of 31 leases to mine nonferrous minerals because of potential taxpayer exposure to cleanup costs. Rebecca is pushing for an open and transparent process when it comes to the setting of financial assurances for new copper mines, which are like damage deposits, so that taxpayers are protected.”

I totally get that people in outstate want mining because heavy industrial jobs pay a whole lot better than tourism jobs. I am not necessarily opposed to mining. But the mining companies sure as heck do not get to leave a big mess for the people of Minnesota to clean up; that’s a bad deal.

Anyway, overall I think she’s been doing a fine job and I’m planning to vote for her.

Keegan Iversen

It took me about fifteen minutes of googling to be pretty sure that this Keegan Iverson is NOT in fact the hockey player. (That Keegan Iverson is also from Minnesota! But younger.)

Edited to add: I cleverly misspelled his last name when googling. Iversen is the politician, Iverson is the hockey player.

Keegan Iversen the Libertarian politician has a picture on his web site (in the gallery of rotating photos) of somebody getting arrested, and I’m curious if it was him, but the existence of the hockey player makes it really hard to turn up news stories about an obscure political activist. (Anyway, it doesn’t look like him. I have no idea why it’s on there; he doesn’t say.) (Edited to add: correctly spelling Iversen did not help me find much more than I’d already found.)

Anyway, this guy has no particularly relevant experience (I think he most recently worked as a military contractor doing weather forecasting in Iraq) and his position statement says that he plans to “eliminat[e] positions and redundant departments,” which is pretty far outside the job description for the Auditor.

Oh, and he accepts donations in Bitcoins.

If you want to be all iconoclastic in this race and vote for a third-party candidate, go for the Independence guy. He has relevant qualifications AND he will jump start your car for you.

Judith Schwartzbacker

Judith has no link because she has no web page, Facebook group, or any useful information about her online beyond the fact that she filed for office and wants to legalize pot.

In googling her name I have also discovered that in 1988 she was a graduate student in Philosophy at the U and gave a talk called “What is Existentialism” at Normandale Community College. She left a comment on a post about philosophy in 2011 and she goes to a Nietzsche interest group meetup.

So basically, her hobbies are weed, philosophy, and filing for offices you’re not actually running for (although she seems to have only done that once, so maybe that doesn’t quite qualify as a hobby yet.)

Don’t vote for her. Legalizing pot is well outside the job description of the State Auditor anyway.