Most voters pay little attention to the race for state auditor, so it might seem odd to be writing about it this far out. But this year might be different for a couple reasons, including some “bold” statements from one of the candidates.
For starters, all down-ballot statewide races might get more focus this year after former State Treasurer Martha Schoffner demonstrated in a profound way how electing the wrong person can cause problems. The official in charge of directing millions in state bond purchases was not only not qualified for the job but was accepting cash from brokers.
As a result, Republicans believe they have an opportunity to pick up some of the constitutional offices for the first time in modern history. In the past, the Democratic nomination was tantamount to winning the election. One young Republican from Saline County, Ken Yang, is hoping to take advantage of the situation.
Yang has already been busy hitting every Republican chicken dinner and tea party meeting he can find. He has been polishing his stump speech, saying he is running on the idea of “bold conservatism.” Part of that, according to Yang, includes whether or not he would sign checks that come through his office.
“In my opinion — I think this is very, very important — the state auditor signs all monies distributed on behalf of the state,” Yang said last month at a Benton County Republican meeting that was recorded and posted to YouTube. “I don’t believe that’s a rubber stamp signature. And it says that in the Constitution of Arkansas and I think that is a very powerful signature. It’s one thing to sign the paycheck of someone who works for the state. It’s another thing to sign a check for hundreds of millions of dollars that is going somewhere that the people of Arkansas don’t want it to go. So I think that’s a very powerful signature.”
Yang apparently was referring to expense checks as opposed to payroll checks. There have been other reports of similar statements at other Republican meetings where Yang has spoken. But Yang claims the comments are out of context.
“I said that ‘with the state auditor being the general accountant for the state that we can begin having a conversation on how state agencies spend money and not rubber stamping all spending in Arkansas’,” Yang said in an interview. “And to further elaborate on that statement, I am fully aware that the state auditor signs checks. However, I am aiming to bring transparency to the state auditor’s office and as state auditor, I’d have a firsthand look at how tax-paying Arkansans’ money is being spent.”
Yang was not responsive to my biggest question, which was whether he would he refuse to sign or authorize the disbursement of properly authorized expenses. If Yang chose to exercise such a power – as his statement seems to indicate – it would make him much more powerful than any previous auditor. In that view, the auditor could, in effect, nullify an appropriation properly passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor.
Fortunately, it appears Republican primary voters will have a choice. State Rep. Andrea Lea of Russellville is planning to announce she will run for auditor. She said if an auditor refused to make a properly authorized disbursement, it would be tantamount to a veto power that the constitution grants only to the governor.
“As auditor I would execute the laws passed by the General Assembly and I would not act outside the prescribed duties as laid out in the constitution. The auditor’s office is not a policy-making entity. Policy-making is left up to the 135 members of the Legislature elected by their districts for that purpose. Having served now on three different legislative bodies, I have respect for that separation of power,” Lea said.
So it looks like it will be up to primary voters just how much boldness they want to see in their state auditor.
• • •
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.