Replacing Brian Sonntag will be a difficult task for the next state auditor. The retiring Sonntag leaves a legacy of independent accomplishments that is admired by conservatives and liberals alike. During 20 years as state auditor, he consistently championed open government and performance audits to the extent that, last Sept. 29, we editorialized: "Washington taxpayers have no greater friend than Brian Sonntag."Fortunately for voters in the Aug. 7 primary, replacing Sonntag is facilitated by the emergence of two impressive candidates. One — outgoing state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver — has broad legislative experience and keen insight into government's auditing responsibilities. The other — Kirkland businessman James Watkins — has an extensive private-sector auditing background.
The Columbian endorses Democrat Pridemore and Republican Watkins as the top two candidates in a field that drew four strong candidates to fill this rare open seat in a statewide race. After the top two primary, we'll make a single endorsement for the Nov. 6 general election.
Other candidates in the primary for state auditor include state Rep. Troy Kelley, D-Lakewood, and state Rep. Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way. Neither, though, can match Pridemore and Watkins when it comes to overall financial acumen, passion for open government and enthusiasm for a statewide office that, for all practical purposes, should remain nonpartisan in all its operations.
Upfront, we can say we like Pridemore because he's one of us, and it would be good to have a local public servant ascend to a statewide post. But beyond that parochial view is the political reality that Pridemore has served the community well as county commissioner (1999-2004) and as a state senator since 2005. He currently chairs two committees that prepare him well for the state auditor's job: the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee, and the Senate Government Operations committee that provides oversight of accountability and efficiency efforts in state government. His earlier experience includes finance manager for Clark County Public Works and administrator for a private-sector accounting firm. He's a graduate of Fort Vancouver High School and the University of Washington.
Pridemore also is well-suited to continue Sonntag's exuberant protection and promotion of open government, which Pridemore describes as "the absolute core of the state auditor's office."
Watkins has a big political advantage in this campaign: He's the only Republican seeking to advance beyond the top two primary. But he's also got a satchel full of private-sector experience that qualifies him for state auditor. Working in several phases of the financial industry and most recently as a business development consultant, Watkins has conducted more than 150 performance audits in both the public and private sectors.
Kelley and Miloscia are capable in their own rights, but neither has the depth of experience and intense focus that Pridemore and Watkins bring to this campaign. We have long advocated making the state auditor's position a nonpartisan office. That day may never come, but in the meantime, Pridemore and Watkins are solidly independent enough to accept the reins from Sonntag.
Rendering governments more efficient through performance audits, and protecting citizens' rights to open government are the state auditor's key duties. Pridemore and Watkins are highly qualified to do both.