After historically poor voter turnout in May’s primary election, the general election might not be much different for Indiana. The state faces a November without a major race, such as governor or senator, at the top of the ballot.
In fact, the title of State Auditor might be the greatest misnomer in Indiana. The Auditor isn’t responsible for auditing state and local government; that’s the job of the State Board of Accounts and internal auditors at major state agencies such as the Family and Social Services Administration and the Department of Revenue.
But both Democratic and Republican candidates for Auditor – Michael Claytor and Suzanne Crouch – want that to change. Claytor says his proposal, which Crouch echoes, is to bring all internal auditors in state agencies into the State Auditor’s office.
“Since the Auditor is elected separately from the state administration, that would make all of those internal auditors independent as well," he says. "And then those internal audit resources could be parceled out to all state agencies, not just the really large state agencies that can afford it in their budget.”
The Auditor is primarily responsible for paying the state’s bills and running Indiana’s transparency portal. Crouch, who was appointed to serve as Auditor in the last year, says because most Hoosiers never interact with her office, they don’t realize its importance.
As she’s traveled the state, Crouch says she’s talked about her plans to improve the transparency portal. That would include adding data from quasi-government agencies such as the Bond Bank and Indiana Finance Authority.
“That is so important to me that people know what their government’s doing, they know how their government’s spending their money,” Crouch says.
Claytor says he wants the office to go much further. More than just provide data through the portal, he says he wants the Auditor to be the state’s financial watchdog.
“When you look at last year’s revenues and you see that while corporate revenues were up, individual income tax revenues were way down and our number of jobs were up. Well somebody needs to say that if you put those numbers into the calculator, that means our average wages are down," Claytor says. "So we have that financial data, but who’s analyzing that data and explaining it to the taxpayers?”
Claytor isn’t the only Democrat who wants to expand the role of the office they’re running for. Treasurer candidate Mike Boland’s pitch to voters is pretty similar. Boland is a former teacher and state lawmaker in Illinois.
He moved to Indiana a few years ago to be closer to his children and grandkids. And Boland says when he listened to state officials, he felt compelled to get back into government.
“The leaders in this state are not just content with stagnating it; they’re actually trying to drag it backwards and the Treasurer seemed to be one of the worst culprits," Boland says. "Now he’s retired but his administration is still going on. We need a change there – a change in philosophy, a change in attitude.”
Boland says he wants to invest more money in Indiana banks, and in return get the banks to give lower interest rates on student loans and to women, veteran, and minority entrepreneurs. He says he also wants to promote the state’s CollegeChoice 529 savings plan, which helps Hoosiers save money for college…something Boland says not nearly enough people are aware of.
“I’ll go to neighborhood meetings, we’ll go to union halls, we’ll go to social service agencies to make sure it’s promoted there. In the smaller communities I’ll hold town hall meetings. We’ll get this message out to everybody across this state.”
Kelly Mitchell, Boland’s Republican opponent who spent the last seven years working in the Treasurer’s office, says the 529 program has received national and international attention and grew 1200-percent in the last seven years. Mitchell says plenty of people know about it; she wants to make sure they know about everything it can do.
“This is the best tax incentivized program in the country but it can be used for anything that gives you a license or a certification; it doesn’t have to be a college degree,” Mitchell says.
A common refrain from Democrats on the ballot is a need for more balance in government. Republicans, after all, control both houses in the legislature and all but one statewide elected office. But Crouch says the political party isn’t as important as the person.
“I don’t think that is as important as a person who is independent and is not afraid to stand up for what’s right," she says. "And I demonstrated that as a state representative when my governor was rolling out the modernization of welfare eligibility process and I, in the same party, filed a bill to halt that process.”
Mitchell says what matters to voters is which candidates are best qualified for the job.
“Hand in hand with being a historic ticket for three women at the top, we also all have experience in the office that we’re seeking and we all have elected local government experience in Indiana as well,” Mitchell says.
Regardless of party, all the candidates agree: getting voters to the polls is about convincing them of how important the statewide offices are and how they impact their daily lives, even if Hoosiers don’t always notice.