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Missouri auditor seeks to keep office she was appointed to

November 3, 2018
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CORRECTS DATELINE TO DES PERES, MO INSTEAD OF ST. LOUIS - Saundra McDowell, the Republican candidate for Missouri state auditor, poses for a photo Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, in Des Peres, Mo. McDowell faces incumbent Auditor Nicole Galloway in the November 6 election. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Auditor Nicole Galloway is one of just two Democrats in statewide offices in Missouri, and if she’s going to keep her job, she might need some help from the other one.

Galloway faces Republican Saundra McDowell in the election Tuesday. Though Galloway holds a big fundraising edge and McDowell faces questions about her residency and personal finances, experts say the fact that Galloway is a Democrat in a red state means she could still use some top-of-the-ticket help from Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is in a tough re-election battle against Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley in the only other statewide race on the ballot.

“I think Galloway has a little bit of an advantage, but this is a Republican state and everything depends on turnout, and to some extent on turnout at the top of the ticket for McCaskill,” said David Robertson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Galloway, 36, is a relative newcomer to state politics, thrust into her position by tragedy. She was Boone County treasurer in 2015 when Auditor Tom Schweich took his own life. Then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, appointed Galloway as the replacement.

“It was a very public tragedy,” Galloway said. “I’m proud of the way we navigated those difficulties and that transition.”

Galloway said audits during her tenure have identified more than $300 million in waste and abuses, and resulted in nearly three dozen criminal charges.

“People feel the system is rigged against them, that there are these powerful people in government that make decisions on their behalf that they don’t really understand how or why those decisions are being made,” Galloway said. “It’s my job to fight for transparency and accountability in that way.”

The auditor’s office is designed to determine whether tax dollars are spent efficiently, economically and legally, according to the office website. Among the entities the office reviews are state agencies, boards and commissions, statewide elected officials, the legislature, municipal and circuit courts and 90 of the state’s 114 counties. The job pays nearly $108,000 a year.

McDowell is a 38-year-old attorney who has worked for the Missouri secretary of state and attorney general offices. She defeated three other challengers in the August primary.

Campaign finance reports show that Galloway had $1.3 million on hand as of October. McDowell had $26,458.

McDowell said the financial disparity makes her work that much harder, visiting countless ice cream socials, barbecues and other local events across the state.

“I don’t have over a million dollars like my opponent does so I’m doing it the hard way and I’m reaching as many people as I can,” McDowell said.

McDowell said that part of her drive to run for auditor was spurred by her time in the Missouri secretary of state’s securities division, where she worked with auditors and investigators. As a private attorney she also has overseen fraud investigations.

She also cited her eight years in the Air Force.

“Just taking that oath to protect your country, that never goes away,” McDowell said.

Campaign finances aren’t McDowell’s only hurdle. The Missouri Constitution requires the auditor to be a state resident for at least 10 years. McDowell was in law school in Virginia in 2008, though she said she intended to move to Missouri, her husband’s home state.

That intent meets the residency requirement, McDowell said, citing a legal case from nearly five decades ago. Republican Kit Bond was elected auditor in 1970 even though he had lived outside the state. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that residency “is largely a matter of intention” and does not require physical presence.

Galloway also has raised concerns about McDowell’s personal finances, noting that McDowell has been sued seven times in the last five years for unpaid bills and has more than $50,000 in garnishments and judgments against her.

Chief among those issues: McDowell and her husband were ordered to pay $32,658 to a Springfield landlord in 2015.

McDowell said the order was the result of a lawsuit that she and her husband lost, not financial mismanagement. She said they opted to repay the money instead of challenge the court ruling.

Galloway has faced her own scrutiny. A judge is weighing arguments in a lawsuit alleging that she allowed text messages to be deleted in the face of an open records request. The conservative nonprofit Missouri Alliance for Freedom filed a request in May 2017 for a broad swath of records relating to Galloway’s scrutiny of then-Republican Gov. Eric Greitens’ Department of Revenue regarding state income tax refunds. Two other requests for records from Galloway’s office followed.

Joel Anderson, Galloway’s chief litigation counsel, said the nonprofit was given screenshots of some text messages, as well as 45,000 pages of emails and other communications. But the Missouri Alliance for Freedom said it should have received more texts.

Hawley weighed in on the issue and reported that Galloway didn’t break the Sunshine Law by deleting text messages.

Though the auditor position may get less attention than some statewide offices, its political importance shouldn’t be ignored. Bond eventually was elected to two terms as governor and to the U.S. Senate. Another Republican, John Ashcroft, followed a similar path after serving as auditor. And McCaskill was auditor from 1999 to 2006, when she won her first term in the U.S. Senate.

“It’s pretty low-profile but it has been a launching pad for statewide candidates in the past,” Robertson said.

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For AP’s complete coverage of the U.S. midterm elections: http://apne.ws/APPolitics

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