Both of the Republican State Auditor candidates spoke at a forum in Gardendale on Monday night. Stan Cooke and Andrew Sorrell are running in the Republican primary runoff on June 21. The forum was hosted by Eagle Forum of Alabama, WYDE FM radio in Birmingham, and 1819 News. A crowd of almost 40 people attended the Gardendale Civic Center.
Dr. Stan Cooke said, “It is time to bring a commonsense business mentality back to the government.”
“We are taxed enough already,” Cooke said. “We need to keep a watchful eye” on government and hold them accountable for "the money that we entrust to them, and that is what an independent State Auditor does.
“The state auditor’s office played an integral part in the founding of Alabama in 1819,” Cooke said. “It was called the comptroller then and it oversaw forestry and agriculture. Since then, Democratic governors and legislators have created a lot of bureaucracies and agencies that we did not have in 1819.
“Today the auditor is fighting for survival."
The Examiner of Public Accounts is one of those agencies that was created by usurping powers away from the elected Auditor Cooke explained. “The Examiners have a $16 million budget while the State Auditor has just $870 thousand.”
Cooke said that the Auditor should be back in charge of the audits and the office restored, “Back to its constitutional duties and responsibilities.”
“I am trying to save the position,” Sorrell said. “I can do that better as the Auditor than serving in the legislature.”
The auditing powers of the State Auditor’s office were stripped away by a segregation-era state legislature in 1939.
“It was a mistake 80 years ago and it is a mistake today,” Sorrell said of the decision to take the state’s auditing authority away from the State Auditor.
Sorrell said that there was legislation introduced to abolish Alabama State Auditor’s position altogether, so before considering that, “I went to talk with current State Auditor Jim Zeigler and I found out that the State Auditor tracks all the states property worth over $500. This is a government accountability office.
“The first bill did not go anywhere, but this year the bill to abolish the Auditor’s position passed the Senate with only one 'No' vote and I am ashamed to say that it was a Democrat, not a Republican that voted 'No.' They told me it was not going to reach the floor of the House, but on the last day of the session there it was on the calendar so I gave my elevator speech on why we need to save the Auditor. It (the bill to abolish the office) missed passage by seventeen votes.”
Sorrell explained that since the Auditor is a constitutional office it can only be abolished by a constitutional amendment and that would have to be ratified by a vote of the people.
“If you ever see that on a ballot, please vote no. That would send a big message to Montgomery that it is important to have a government accountability position,” Sorrell said. “My number one goal is to try to strengthen the office. I have already drafted the bill.”
The State Auditor appoints one of the three members of the boards of registrars in 66 of the 67 counties.
“I will make sure the right people are appointed to the Board of Registrars,” Sorrell said.
“The state auditor will get 66 appointments to the Boards of Registrars,” Cooke said. “Jefferson County is the oddball.”
“We will have face-to-face interviews. We will look at resumes. We will look at experience,” Cooke said of how he will select registrars. "I will meet with the Republican party county leadership and ask them who needs to be in that office. We will go county by county with interviews.”
Sorrell warned that if Democrats get control of the Jefferson County commission they could get control of the registrars there.
“We can see in Georgia how fraud in one big county can flip the election in an entire state,” Sorrell said. “If the Democrats ever get a third seat the Democrats will be picking the registrars and that is very scary for me.”
Both Sorrell and Cooke favored legislation to make the registrars in Jefferson County appointed by constitutional officers like the other 66 counties.
Cooke explained that right now the auditor’s office has no power to prosecute people who steal state property. They can only recommend the attorney general or the district attorney do it.
“He is not required to do it and the state auditor does not have the power to do it,” Cooke said.
Sorrell said that Mississippi has a strong State Auditor with the power to arrest people and hold them accountable.
“He catches people embezzling, arrests them, and puts their picture on his website. He does this every week,” Sorrell said. “Do we not have as many people embezzling as Mississippi or are we just not catching them all?”
“The main problem is the Legislature passing the law,” to restore the Auditor’s arrest powers Cooke said. “Over a year you will have $1 million in state property go missing.”
Sorrell and Cooke will be on the Republican primary runoff ballot on Tuesday.
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