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Auditor hopefuls in hidden race

ST. PAUL -- One state auditor candidate accuses another of running a ghost campaign. But other races, and U.S. Sen.

ST. PAUL -- One state auditor candidate accuses another of running a ghost campaign.

But other races, and U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone's death, have overshadowed the campaign for state auditor.

Four people -- DFLer Carol Johnson, Republican Patricia Anderson Awada, Dave Hutcheson of the Independence Party and Dave Berger of the Green Party --want to replace Judi Dutcher as state auditor, the position responsible for checking finances of 4,300 units of local government.

Awada has been by far the most active, and accuses Johnson of not campaigning.

"Carol Johnson is a ghost," Awada aid.


"She is not campaigning. She is wholly unqualified for the office."

Johnson, the current state treasurer, doesn't seem to get rattled by Awada.

"My method of campaigning is just talking to people and telling them why I would be a good state auditor," she said.

"I do have a low-key campaign because I am a low-key person. I work best behind the scenes and think that is what the auditor does."

Johnson, who says she doesn't want to step up to a higher office, doesn't make promises and has not proposed changes for the office.

"Until I get in there and understand the process of how they work and how they are organized, I would not see any changes," Johnson said, except to be more proactive in working with the Legislature.

Johson said, however, she has no legislative changes in mind.

A massive state budget deficit probably will slow down any changes she would like to make, she said.


For instance, she would like to make audit reports available on the auditor's Internet site for the public to see.

She also would like to make more spot checks on audits.

Awada also wants to make audit information more easily available.

"Right now, anyone can get budget information about any government entity ... but you get a 500-page budget that you cannot makes heads or tails out of," she said.

Awada said she would break down the budget into an easier-to-understand format.

Hutcheson agreed.

"Part of the job of state auditor ought to be establishing some kind of perspective for people who want to know about it," Hutcheson said.

In a public television debate, Awada and Johnson disagreed over their qualifications.


"I know local government finance inside and out and that is really what this job is about," said Awada, who is Eagan mayor and a former City Council member.

But Johnson, a former Bloomington council member, said her four years as state auditor and dozen years as a top assistant in that office give her the background needed.

"It is important to know about auditing," she said, and the treasurer's office is audited every year.

The auditor's job is not limited to auditing.

For instance, the auditor sits on the State Board of Investment, which decides where pensions funds are invested.

Berger would promote more of the state's investments being made in Minnesota.

Awada said local governments don't get much direction from the auditor.

"The auditor needs to set very clear standards," she said.


"Right now, many things are unclear."

Not so, Johnson said.

Dutcher and her staff do a good job of holding workshops for local government officials, Johnson said, and she would continue them.

Johnson said she would turn information over to prosecutors when she spots improper use of funds.

However, she said, because of recent corporate fraud publicly, governments probably are careful about how they spend tax money.

Awada is stronger in her comments.

"I think I will be a more aggressive auditor, in a sense, when local government units are doing things illegal," she said.

Hutcheson, who won the endorsement of the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, said he tells people he is "an unknown person running for an obscure office."


He touts his ability to do the job without the partisanship that could be expected from candidates of larger parties.

Berger would go well beyond the typical auditor job.

He would have affordable housing, livable wages, education and the environment as priorities.

"I see the big picture," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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