In an exclusive to NW Daily Marker, current State Auditor Brian Sonntag (D) spoke by telephone Thursday to offer reflections on his political career (to this point), views on the proper role of the Auditor’s office, and some of his impressions of the candidates running for his open seat.
In Washington State politics, there are arguably no other elected officials with Sonntag’s unique ability to maintain popular appeal among voters while pursuing objectives as Auditor that invariably place him at odds with powerful interests.
Despite the stress and inherent political peril of being the taxpayer’s lifeguard in the shark tank of the State Capitol, Sonntag told us he remains “honored and humbled” by the tremendous support of Washingtonians.
(Though Sonntag was elected to State Auditor in 1992 by a narrow margin against Republican candidate Sam Reed, he has won double-digit victories in every re-election including a 27-point margin in 2008.)
As he prepares to take a hiatus from a 34-year career in elected public service, we asked him what his feelings are about both the future of the Auditor’s office and the slate of candidates running to succeed him.
“This is the office that was created by our founders to be very independent and to be the public’s eyes and ears watching the government—to monitor their stewardship over government funds,” Sonntag answered when asked to describe the proper role of the State Auditor.
Who among three Democrats—State Sen. Craig Pridemore, State Rep. Mark Miloscia, and State Rep. Troy Kelley—and one Republican—management consultant James Watkins—could Sonntag see stepping in to take leadership of the watchdog office?
Sonntag told us that although he has no plan to endorse an individual candidate in the Auditor’s race, he does have his own ideas about what sort of person would serve the taxpayers well. Sonntag explains, “What I look for and what I do endorse are particular attributes.”
“When the election is over and it’s time to govern, we all have a responsibility to govern for the entire population,” Sonntag said.
“I’ve known [Miloscia] and his heart is in the right place,” Sonntag said. “I think he cares.”
“[Kelley] has done a good job serving in the Legislature in a pretty swing district,” Sonntag commented.
Those already aware of Sonntag’s bipartisan DNA will not be surprised that his praise included the only Republican running to succeed him.
“I’ve also gotten to known James Watkins,” Sonntag said. “He is particularly qualified based on his background and experience to advance the Auditor’s office and be an independent advocate for taxpayers.”
Though Sonntag did not give a direct assessment of Pridemore, the third Democrat in the race, an answer Sonntag gave about how the future mission of the Auditor’s office may contain a handful of breadcrumbs.
“I’ve heard some discussion of potential directions from some candidates that may take the office in directions that just don’t seem to fit the role of the office, getting into social issues and such,” Sonntag responded on the proper role of the Auditor.
Pridemore has been quietly slipping social issues into the batch of issues in the Democratic primary as in the verbiage below, taken from a campaign flyer paid for by Craig Pridemore for State Auditor:
“Protect Our Values and Priorities
As the partisan Congressional “audit” of Planned Parenthood shows, it is critical that we elect an Auditor focused on eliminating waste, not pursuing an ideology. Craig is the only current candidate who is 100% pro-choice, supports marriage equality, and has earned high marks from environmental and labor organizations.”
In a recent letter of support for Pridemore by the president of Firefighters Local 452 in Vancouver that is featured on Pridemore’s campaign website, Miloscia is attacked as a social conservative and the idea of adding social issues to the Auditor’s agenda is given a full seal of approval. From IAFF Local 452 President Mark Johnston’s letter:
Miloscia has a troubling, conservative record of opposition to choice and LGBT rights, wavering on critical environmental and accountability votes, and other issues important to our families and communities. Pretending social issues play no role in statewide office—when Republicans in Washington, DC are “auditing” Planned Parenthood and threatening NLRB and OSHA— is simply misleading. Values matter!
Whatever the outcome of this year’s election, Sonntag is not shutting the door on any aspirations to hold future office at any level of government.
“What I love is the opportunity to serve the public,” Sonntag said. “If there’s ever a way for me to advocate for open and honest government, any way we can make sure that government is open and listens to people, those are the types of opportunities I would consider.”