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OUR OPINION: North Dakota voters want a watchdog as auditor

Wise leaders pay attention to honest feedback, including criticism. With that in mind, and with today’s ThreeSixty section featuring transcripts of interviews with North Dakota candidates for statewide office, the Herald here offers a suggestion for one of those candidates to take under advisement.

To Brian Kroshus, who’s running for the Republican nomination for North Dakota state auditor: Consider promising to be an activist rather than an administrator.

Kroshus makes much of his tenure as publisher of the Bismarck Tribune -- and rightly so: He successfully managed the business during an exceptionally challenging time for newspapers.

That’s solid leadership and executive experience for anyone who’d like to be the head of a state agency.

But just as there are two aspects to the job of publisher -- namely, business and journalism -- so, too, are there two aspects to the job of auditor, those aspects being the administrative function and the watchdog function.

Kroshus is running as an administrator; so, understandably, he highlights his administrative success at the Tribune. But in our view, while North Dakotans might want an administrator to be their state treasurer, they want their state auditor to be the incorruptible inspector whose scrutiny keeps all other state agencies on the level.

They want someone who’ll be a watchdog, in other words.

That’s a key reason why the auditor is an elected office: so that he or she won’t be under the governor’s thumb.

Given his tenure as Tribune publisher, Kroshus has “watchdog” in his background, too. He should highlight that in his campaign. Are there times when the Tribune uncovered wrongdoing, and Kroshus had to go to the mat for his newsroom, perhaps in defiance of key advertisers?

That’s the sort of episode voters would like to hear about.

We also think that when he’s asked whether there are any agencies in particular that he feels should be looked at, he should come up with a stronger answer than this one, which is in the transcript:

“No. Going into any audit, you have to be objective.”

Yes, an auditor has to be objective. But an auditor candidate such as Kroshus should be able to point to episodes in state governance that made him mad, and that would drive him as auditor to root out wrongdoing.

Dickinson State University and the Dickinson State University Foundation’s troubled recent histories come to mind. Kroshus could zero in on those episodes, point out what the state auditor did right and wrong in response, and in that way give voters a sense of the kind of auditor he’d be.

We’re sure Kroshus went into newspaper work because of the industry’s dual business and watchdog nature. We suspect that’s what he really likes about the auditor gig, too.

We suggest that he highlight with enthusiasm his commitment to the watchdog role.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald