The five-way Republican race for state auditor is renewing questions about what qualifications the state’s top fiscal watchdog needs to hold the post.
Three of the candidates – Joseph Hank DeBragga, Fern Shubert and Rudy Wright – are certified public accountants. The other two, Greg Dority and Debra Goldman, are not.
North Carolina’s constitution doesn’t require the advanced certification to hold the job. In 2004, Republican Les Merritt became the first CPA to hold the job, agency officials said.
The winner of the race will face Democratic incumbent Beth Wood, a CPA. The crowded race is likely headed to a runoff unless one candidate receives 40 percent of the vote.
Wright believes the certificate is a necessary qualification. “I think it’s important for the candidates to have some accounting knowledge and abide by a code of ethics. And I know the CPAs have a rigid code of ethics,” said Wright, the four-term mayor of Hickory who is making his first statewide bid.
He is running entirely on his qualifications and 24 years as an audit specialist at Deloitte, one of the Big 4 national firms. He has since let his certification lapse but is presently getting recertified. “One of my specialties was governmental accounting,” he said. “I have a good understanding for what makes a sound governmental entity and what doesn’t.”
DeBragga is a former hospital executive with 10 years as an auditor who says he is also running on his credentials. He currently works for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “In my current position I feel like there needs to be more accountability for (state) employees that don’t perform up to the standards,” the political newcomer said.
Shubert is probably the best known in political circles. She served for eight years as an outspoken state lawmaker and made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2008 as essentially a one-issue candidate pushing for tougher illegal immigration laws.
As a CPA, she worked for Arthur Andersen’s audit division and the Internal Revenue Service. She said her ability to spot fraud and take action sets her apart. “My qualifications are so far past the norm,” she said.
The other two candidates take different tacks in explaining their interest.
“Why would anybody be (a CPA)? This job is about management and experience,” said Dority, a retired private security contractor. “I’m not scared to investigate. I think I’m imminently qualified for it.”
Dority has run unsuccessfully for Congress three times and lieutenant governor once. He said he believes in public service and is not scared to speak out. If elected, he wants to make it easier for taxpayers to report fraud and find more efficiencies.
Goldman said she has worked in business development in years past. She is currently a member of the Wake County school board, where she caused consternation among the Republicans on the nonpartisan board for siding with Democrats on key issues since being elected in 2009. She defends her record. “I have consistently shown I stood strong ... for my beliefs and values,” she said.
Her legal battle with her estranged husband also put her in the headlines. He alleged she “secreted and diverted” money, and she called the accusations fraudulent. She called the matter irrelevant and declined to answer further questions.
On the campaign trail, Goldman is talking about bringing more transparency to the auditor’s office by publishing the audit schedule and detailing how reports are prioritized and conducted. The schedule is currently not public to give auditors an element of surprise, and some audit records are confidential by state law.
She also cites her experience on the school board in digging through financial records as an asset to her candidacy.
“I think there’s a lot of selectivity in what is audited and how deep the audit runs,” she said.