BISMARCK — The North Dakota auditor’s office race features a Republican incumbent whose activist approach to the job has sparked criticism from some in his own party and a Democratic challenger who accuses him of “grandstanding.”
Republican Josh Gallion is seeking a second four-year term as auditor and defending a challenge from Democrat Patrick Hart, who is in business but worked in auditing roles for the state Department of Agriculture and Public Service Commission.
Gallion, who was chief accountant for the PSC before getting elected auditor in 2016, has led several high-profile audits, including examinations of Gov. Doug Burgum’s travel expenses and the state’s rebranding campaign by the Department of Commerce.
In both instances — and an audit of the North Dakota State College of Science — Gallion’s office referred audit findings to the North Dakota attorney general because of “potential noncompliance with the law,” action he said is mandated by a 1966 law.
No criminal charges resulted in any of the cases, but recriminations followed, including from fellow Republicans on the Legislative Audit and Fiscal Review Committee.
Michelle Kommer, who was commerce commissioner, stepped down on Oct. 1 from the post after incurring almost $10,000 in legal bills that the state so far has refused to pay to defend herself from the audit allegations.
Gallion said he is enforcing the laws as written and without showing favoritism. “I believe we made great strides to improve transparency in government,” he said, adding that he is open to changing the law to give a legislative committee the discretion to refer audits to prosecutors if deemed appropriate.
Hart said he would take a less confrontational approach, with an emphasis on solving problems and getting audited entities into compliance, not grabbing headlines by flagging potential criminality that repeatedly has not produced charges.
Gallion’s office failed to conduct exit interviews allowing audit subjects to explain their actions, which he said is a crucial step in an audit, and said reputations were needlessly tarnished.
“I would say he is grandstanding,” Hart said. “You don’t always have to dance when you get to the end zone.”