Democratic candidates are lining up to replace the outgoing auditor general, a potentially high profile position that allows the officeholder to probe a range of hot-button topics.
At least six Democratic candidates are vying for the post, while Lancaster County Commissioner Dennis Stuckey and Dauphin County Controller Tim DeFoor are seeking the Republican nomination. The winner replaces Democrat Eugene DePasquale, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits; he is running for Congress.
During his tenure, DePasquale used the post to target a variety of high-profile topics. One recent audit examined “potentially bad data and sloppy record-keeping” within the state’s voter registration system. Another called on the federal government to stop holding immigrating and asylum-seeking families at the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport.
“The auditor general’s office is severely fractured right now due to what I believe to be politics and the cutting of our budget,” said Tracie Fountain, a CPA who has served in the auditor general’s office for more than 29 years.
Fountain and other candidates recently appeared at the Penn Ag Democrats Jefferson-Jackson Day Luncheon.
“The auditor general’s office is one of the most crucial and critical offices of the state,” said Rose Marie Davis, a CPA and vice chairman of the Smithfield Township Board of Auditors. “The auditor general’s office has the core responsibility for making sure that … your dollars and my dollars are being spent in a reasonable and effective way and according to the law.”
Democrats in the Keystone State continue to feel the sting of 2016 in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton on his way to election as the nation’s 45th president.
“We’re going to work together because we have a chance this year,” state Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, said. “We have a chance to bring dignity back. We have a chance to work together, but most of all, we have a chance to change the lives of every Pennsylvania” resident.
Christina Hartman, a nonprofit leader from Lancaster County, touted the opportunity to build on DePasquale’s work as auditor general.
“I think it is very important that we keep someone in this position who will carry on his great work, capitalizing on all that he’s done and take it to the next level,” Hartman said.
The post is a natural magnet for financial officials serving at the local level who are looking to step into a statewide office.
“My job every day is to watch over people’s tax dollars to avoid waste, fraud, abuse,” Michael Lamb, city controller in Pittsburgh, said. “We’re really the first line of defense … against public corruption.”
Nina Ahmad, a former Philadelphia deputy mayor, touted the office as an opportunity to bring about “progressive change.”
“The auditor general’s office is not only a tool for fiscal oversight; it can be a tool for progressive change,” Ahmad said. “As auditor general, I will use the office to shine a light on sexual harassment in government, take on big pharma to lower prescription drug costs and pharmacy benefits managers … and provide real data for gun violence that puts (the) NRA in its place.”
But Alan Butkovitz, former city controller in Philadelphia who addressed the audience by speakerphone, took a different tact, saying the office is not about political ideologies.
“The whole point of the auditor general’s office is not to impose an ideology of extremes or any kind of ideology on policymakers,” Butkovitz said. “That’s really the work of the governor and the Legislature.”
The Pennsylvania primary election is set for April 28, and the general election will take place Nov. 3.