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Candidates aim to keep up high profile of New Mexico auditor

November 1, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Office of the State Auditor in New Mexico has served as a springboard for aspiring politicians and has made headlines for some of its special investigations.

The candidates vying for the seat both have said they aim to continue using its power to hold local and state government accountable.

Republican Wayne Johnson was appointed to the office last year and is running for a full term. He’s being challenged by Brian Colon, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

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THE OFFICE:

The auditor’s office ensures that the finances of government agencies, school districts, universities and other public organizations that receive tax dollars are examined annually. That work is often done by independent auditors overseen by the state auditor.

The office also promotes transparency and conducts special investigations. Its mantra has been to stamp out fraud, waste and abuse.

A review in 2015 and 2016 by the agency underscored the extent of New Mexico’s backlog when it came to processing evidence kits in sexual assault cases, finding that New Mexico had more untested kits per capita than any other state.

The office also investigated the University of New Mexico’s troubled athletics department, finding among other things that the school overpaid three coaches and provided perks to some people who didn’t donate money to the university or its fundraising arms.

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THE CANDIDATES:

If Johnson were to win, he would be the first Republican to be elected to the post in decades.

A former commissioner in New Mexico’s most populous county, Johnson was appointed to the position last December to fill the vacancy created when Democrat Tim Keller stepped down to become Albuquerque mayor.

Over the last several months, Johnson has issued warnings about a development project in Alamogordo and detailed spending on flowers and employee bonuses by an organization that provides services for senior citizens. Most recently, he entered an agreement to help New Mexico courts in identifying guardians and conservators who are mismanaging or misspending funds that belong to vulnerable adults.

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An Albuquerque attorney, Colon has a finance degree and has represented business and governmental entities.

He once served as Democratic Party chairman and winning the auditor’s seat would end a political drought for him. Colon ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010 and for Albuquerque mayor last year.

Colon has said that while the Office of the State Auditor has been effective, it faces challenges that include budget cuts in recent years. His priorities include encouraging more outreach with the public and promoting the agency’s fraud hotline.

Colon has been able to out-fundraise Johnson over the course of the campaign. According finance reports filed with the state, the Democrat has brought in more than $330,000 in contributions and has spent about half of that. Johnson’s contributions total about $167,000.

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