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State auditor candidates on the attack

ST. PAUL -- It doesn't seem like Rebecca Otto and Pat Anderson like each other much.

The two state auditor candidates may be running in a little-noticed race, but their rhetoric is like the hottest big-time campaigns can deliver.

A July dispute between the two illustrates the point:

"The next installment in a long history of Rebecca Otto playing fast and loose with the truth has arrived," an Anderson news release proclaimed.

"Both Anderson and her former deputy state auditor, now GOP party chair Tony Sutton, have trouble with math and try to spin the numbers," Otto shot back.

Otto ousted Anderson from the state auditor job four years ago, at the end of Anderson's first term, and this year's contest feels like a grudge match.

The auditor, who makes $102,257 annually, checks local governments' books.

The two candidates say they are running to be auditor, not to use the office as a stepping stone. However, Anderson began the campaign season as one of about a dozen GOP candidates for governor, then switched races when it became obvious that she trailed the leaders.

Before being auditor, Anderson was Eagan's mayor. After she lost to Otto she became a state commissioner, hired to eliminate her small state department with another.

Otto served on a school board, then one term in the Minnesota House. She lost a rematch with the person she beat in her effort to win a second term.

The current auditor began her career as a science teacher.

Otto and Anderson know most political attention is focused on the governor's race this year, but Anderson said because the office they seek deals with fiscal matters, "it is on the radar."

The two agree on one thing: They run their campaigns with different styles.

Anderson said that when she was auditor, she was more active than is Otto. But Otto said Anderson and her chief deputy, now state Republican chairman, made too many math mistakes.

Otto said that when Anderson was auditor she thrived on finding government mistakes, while Otto said that she tries to teach governments in advance how to keep books correctly.

"Pat chased headlines," Otto charged.

Anderson said that an auditor needs to do more than routine fiscal audits. If that was all the official did, the state should just hire an auditor, she added.

An auditor, she added, needs to find ways to do financial work better. For instance, she said, while in office she gave local governments guidelines about how large their fund balances should be.

Otto complained that Anderson opposed Local Government Aid in her auditor term, and actively put down the state aid program. Anderson, on the other hand, said she merely showed lawmakers and the public statistics and did not push an LGA policy.

"Someone has to key on the facts," Anderson said.

It is not the auditor's job to favor or oppose LGA, Anderson said, but there are places in the debate where the auditor does belong. An example the GOP candidate gave was when Pawlenty cut LGA days before checks were to be sent to cities. "I think that was wrong," she said, because cities had so little notice.

Otto, who has the support of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said that on LGA "I don't say anything good or bad."

While both major candidates said it is not the auditor's role to set policy, they agreed that they need to have a say in some issues.

Anderson, for instance, said she favors reducing the number of state laws and rules that local governments face. That should lower local costs, she said.

Otto blamed Anderson for the theft of computers when the Republican was a state official.

"That's something government should do well," Otto said about security, because computers may contain personal data about Minnesota taxpayers. "It boils down to sloppiness."

Otto said she has streamlined her office since Anderson left, giving her staff more time to audit books. Among the changes is posting information on the office Web site so local governments may get answers to common questions quickly, without taking staff time.

The Green Party auditor candidate is Annie Young, who has spent 21 years on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the longest service of any member of her party in the country.

"I am seeking the office of state auditor to advance the Green Party's platform of environmental stewardship, social and economic justice, grassroots democracy and local control," she said.

A Young goal is to receive 5 percent of the vote, which under state law would give the Green Party an easier route to put candidates on the ballot.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.