Kansas candidates for governor differ on potential state auditor position

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

? Two Democrats running for Kansas governor say they support the creation of a statewide office to handle complaints about government practices.

Democrats Josh Svaty and Carl Brewer said they support establishment of a state auditor position after a Kansas City Star editorial on Sunday proposed it, the Wichita Eagle reported. Republican candidate and Secretary of State Kris Kobach opposes it.

“I believe an open and accessible government begins with leaders who are willing to listen to each other and all Kansans to find solutions that work for everyone,” Svaty said. “A state auditor will provide an unbiased leader for all Kansans to turn to with their concerns about their government.”

Brewer expressed concern about insulating the office from political pressure, but he supports the idea. Any new office with the power to prosecute would need strict rules and impartiality, he said.

“Would the state auditor be protected from the whims of different administrations or majorities in the Legislature? We currently fail to fund our schools properly despite a constitutional requirement. How would funding be ensured?” Brewer said.

Several states have auditors. In Missouri, the position is elected and partisan. The Kansas Legislature currently has an auditing arm, but it only investigates issues at the direction of a legislative committee.

Kansas used to have an elected state auditor, but the position was eliminated in 1972.

Creating an elected auditor position in Kansas would require amending the state constitution, which entails getting the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters.

Rep. Jim Ward, the House Democratic leader and a candidate for governor, said Kansas needs more transparency and accountability in government, but he stopped short of supporting an auditor.

“Before I would spend millions of taxpayer dollars on more employees, we need strong leaders who will demand transparency and accountability,” Ward said. “That’s the kind of governor I’ll be.”

Ed O’Malley, a Republican entrepreneur, said more bureaucracy is not the solution.

“The last thing the people of Kansas need is more bureaucracy and another government agency. It is better to simply fix what’s broken, that is why I’m calling for a law to end the practice of unrecorded committee votes,” Kobach said, referring to votes taken by legislative committees in which members’ votes are not recorded.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who will become governor if Brownback is confirmed to an ambassadorship, has not provided specific details about what he would do. His spokeswoman, Kara Fullmer, said Colyer “believes that transparency is vital for fostering trust in government. He looks forward to working to improve transparency when he becomes Governor.”

Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, said the Legislature could establish a commission that would name an auditor to investigate transparency issues.

“An elected position would raise questions of partisanship but I think other states have avoided it by having open government commissions established,” Keefover said.