For the past 34 years, only two men have occupied the office of the Auditor of the State of Iowa, Richard Johnson from 1979 to 2003, and David Vaudt from 2003 to 2013. Next month, Vaudt will leave his office to become the chairman of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. The move not only caught Republicans by surprise, but it also has them scrambling to find a replacement.
Iowa Code states that Governor Branstad is charged with maintaining the office until he appoints a new auditor to serve out the rest of Vaudt’s term, which ends in January of 2015. The Governor’s office launched an “Auditor Search” website late last week that encouraged individuals interested in the job to submit a resume and cover letter. The press release announcing the website reads like a help wanted ad, which is a little odd since governors don’t usually openly solicit applicants for political appointments.
The Branstad administration is wise to solicit public input and encourage those who have an interest in the office to submit their name and qualifications through the website. You never know who might be interested, and more importantly the best candidate to replace Vaudt might not be someone who is prominent or overly active in Republican politics.
Just take a look at Vaudt’s background. Vaudt came to run for public office not through political activism, but because his profession. His only political contribution before putting his name on the ballot was a $200 donation to the Republican Party of Iowa in 2000. Vaudt probably wasn’t on anybody’s radar as a potential successor to Richard Johnson. It is also likely that his replacement is not going to be well known to Republican activists either.
Vaudt’s 25-year tenure at KPMG made him uniquely qualified to serve as the Auditor of State. While at the accounting firm, he specialized in government services and also served as the Des Moines branch’s human resources and recruiting partner. Talk about the ideal makeup for someone to lead a state office. Yet, had Vaudt not stepped forward to seek public office in 2002, Republicans wouldn’t have even known who he was.
Replacing Vaudt is not going to be any easy task. First of all, Vaudt himself has made it a prerequisite for the office holder to be a CPA. It would be wise for Republicans to continue that requirement; however, politically active CPAs are not all that easy to come by. Secondly, finding a good CPA that can do the job isn’t the only thing Branstad and Republicans are looking for. The appointee also needs to a good communicator and have a desire to run for statewide office.
If Branstad had to appoint a new Secretary of State, Secretary of Agriculture, or even an Attorney General, it would take very little time to produce a long list of qualified individuals that would also be capable of running for statewide office. Replacing the State Auditor is much more difficult, especially if you want to find one that is as qualified as Vaudt.
Like his predecessor, Vaudt called balls and strikes when it came to the state budget. It didn’t matter which party controlled the legislature or who occupied the governor’s office, Vaudt went out of his way to keep his analysis based on solely on the numbers. When state spending and the use of one-time money ran rampant under Governor Chet Culver, Vaudt’s analysis and ability to put the state’s spending problems into perspective so that everyone could understand it was invaluable come election time.
Even though Vaudt’s credentials and performance as State Auditor will be difficult to replace, his astute political skills are also going to be missed. During the state’s budget problems under Culver, Vaudt’s power point presentations on the budget became popular with activists. He did a good job of traveling the state to keep a statewide profile, and he helped the Republican effort by contributing to the legislative effort.
Vaudt was also good at coming up with good one-liners. We all remember his 2002 campaign slogan, “I’m the only CPA running for Auditor.” More recently he used, “In God we trust; everyone else we audit.” And who can forget the “Vauditor” fans and t-shirts from the state fair during his last campaign that used a picture of Vaudt looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator? Vaudt made talking about spending and the budgets mainstream long before the 2010 election cycle.
Many voters and party activists don’t get too worked up about the state auditor’s race. Yet, Vaudt skillfully raised the profile of the office and used his post to educate the public on the state’s finances. He has left his office is good shape, and his successor would be wise to continue operate in the same manner.
Vaudt will not only be missed, but he will be very difficult to replace.
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