The Republican trying to get the only statewide office currently held by Democrats pledged Friday he would show no partisan favoritism, while his opponents said only they could provide the independence needed in the office.
State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, former state Rep. Alan Green and accountant John Hartwig Jr. met in their first and possibly only debate of the campaign at the annual Missouri Press Association convention.
Fitzpatrick, a Republican and former Missouri House Budget Committee chairman, said he will not back down when audit findings show problems in agencies led by his fellow Republicans.
“Anybody who’s covered state government during my time in office much at all knows I have no problem upsetting the apple cart,” Fitzpatrick said to the assembled publishers and editors.
Green, a Democrat who represented Florissant for seven years in the Missouri House, said electing Fitzpatrick would make him wonder “who is guarding the hen house? That is an office that should be independent and whoever is in that position is watching our dollars and make sure each and every dollar is spent in an appropriate way.”
Hartwig, a Libertarian who has not held public office, said his pledge to serve only one term if elected will free him from any attempts to soften audit findings.
“I can impartially audit anyone whether it is a Republican or a Democrat,” Hartwig said.
The auditor is the only constitutional officer on this year’s ballot. The election is not held in the same year other officers are selected to reduce the influence of partisanship on the result. Over the past 50 years, five of the eight auditors won their first election running on the major party ticket opposite of the party that held the governorship.
The constitutional qualifications for being state auditor allow any person who is at least 30, a citizen of the U.S. for 15 years and a resident of Missouri for 10 years to hold the office. But because of the accounting duties of the office, many who run are certified public accountants.
Only Hartwig has that qualification this year. Green, who has also been a state agency director, running the Office of Equal Opportunity under Gov. Jay Nixon, and worked in the Department of Social Services, said his experience understanding state budget issues makes him qualified to run the office.
Fitzpatrick said the CPA qualification is not necessary because the office has many accountants for the day-to-day auditing work.
“What the auditor’s office needs is a leader,” Fitzpatrick said. “I know my way around state government.”
Under questioning from a panel of journalists, Fitzpatrick, Green and Hartwig found agreement in a number of areas.
They all said they would retain the rating system for state and local agency audits adopted by the late Tom Schweich after he became auditor in 2010. Those ratings – Excellent, Good, Fair or Poor – are a “good system, a fair system,” Green said, with his opponents echoing those words.
They also said they would support legislation to give the auditor stronger powers to enforce the state Sunshine Law.
“I would love to see that happen, because so many times information is not getting out to the public because it is not being shared,” Green said.
None of the three said they have specific changes they would make in the office, saying they want to wait until they have been auditor and see how it currently operates.
Fitzpatrick noted that the office is authorized to have 160 employees and currently has about 115 to 120. If the empty jobs are needed, he will push to recruit, he said. If not, he will ask lawmakers to reduce the number of employees allowed.
The candidates disagreed, however, on some policy questions, including whether they support Amendment 3, which would legalize recreational use and sale of marijuana in Missouri.
Green said he supports the measure and Hartwig declined to answer because the auditor’s job is not to make policy. Fitzpatrick said he opposes it, not because he is against legal marijuana but because it clutters up the Missouri Constitution.
“Issues related to marijuana belong in the statutes,” Fitzpatrick said. “And I don’t like a government-mandated monopoly,” referring to provisions that automatically grant licenses to grow and sell recreational marijuana to businesses serving the medical market.
The candidates were also asked about their future ambitions. Of the 10 auditors elected or appointed because of a vacancy since 1970, five have run for governor.
Green and Fitzpatrick didn’t address the question directly, saying that they would wait and make a decision when an opportunity came their way. Hartwig made it clear he only wants one term in office.
“That is the best way to address the problem of chronic politicians,” he said.