Auditor’s debate: Illuzzi talks names, Hoffer talks numbers

Mark Johnson on the air at WDEV.

Friday morning on WDEV’s Mark Johnson Show, state auditor candidates Vince Illuzzi and Doug Hoffer had their first real chance to debate each other in person, in a race so far marked mostly by press releases and low-key coverage.

In a debate lasting just over an hour, Illuzzi threaded almost all his answers with notable names, mentioning endorsements and relationships by the handful wherever possible. In contrast, Hoffer stayed characteristically brief and on target, answering questions directly, with some analysis where appropriate.

One early highlight centered on a press release authored by Hoffer a few days ago, where he criticized the average cost of performance audits as excessive. Illuzzi cast this as an insult to the professionalism of the state auditor’s staff, an attack Hoffer evaded by clarifying that he didn’t question the quality of the audits, merely their management.

Hoffer also questioned why Illuzzi would retain his state’s attorney position if he wins office. Illuzzi said he didn’t want to abandon cases abruptly.

On substantive matters, Hoffer preferred using internal department auditors as the state’s “first line of defense” against Vermont’s embezzlement problem, but said he needed to know more about the state’s resources before planning anything concrete. Illuzzi wants to work with lawmakers to see whether the state auditor could be tasked with forensic municipal audits and he said new statewide human resources systems should help detect embezzlement problems.

Predictably, neither of the candidates believed that their lack of a CPA qualification mattered much in the race.

Illuzzi referred to his relationships with lawmakers and other state officials frequently, and he often mentioned his record as a lawmaker or a state’s attorney and his political experience (“thousands of votes cast”).

In a brief discussion about transparency and recordings of Statehouse meetings, Illuzzi interrupted to ask: “Can I just comment about the fact that I have relationships with individuals?” He then recounted his “great relationships” with Gov. Shumlin, former Govs. Douglas and Dean, but continued: “However, I have not been afraid to call out these leaders … I did so in a respectful and collaborative fashion. We can still go out and have a beer.”

Despite those relationships, Illuzzi said he could still work effectively as an auditor sometimes targeting state agencies when necessary. (Some question whether his political background could impair his auditing work.)

Illuzzi invoked the names of three successive governors, the Barre city mayor, several unions, and Lola Aiken. Hoffer mentioned few names and no endorsements, keeping his answers geared to the questions. He sometimes closed questions off by saying that “the data speaks for itself,” or by challenging anyone to find “anything but following the facts” in his work.

The debate ended with political exchanges. Hoffer reminded Illuzzi of his support for Mitt Romney’s campaign, which Illuzzi tried to shrug off as irrelevant to the race and to voters. Later, Illuzzi slipped in a question about whether Hoffer’s purportedly factual work could be called “left-leaning.”

Mark Johnson asked both candidates if they thought Vermont’s tax burden should be higher or lower. Illuzzi said income tax for the wealthy in Vermont was about right, while Hoffer said income taxes for that group could be raised.

In their last two-minute pitches to voters, Hoffer fell back on a familiar refrain, noting his experience, policy, and analytic skills: “I’ve been a policy analyst for 24 years, including five years in the auditor’s office. I’m a numbers guy, I have a skillset that’s a perfect fit for this office. … I’ve been looking for opportunities to save Vermont taxpayers money, and to find ways to better utilize it.”

Illuzzi did much the same, prizing relationships and another kind of experience beyond all else: “The way you best shine the spotlight on inefficiency is to work with the very individuals who administer those scarce tax dollars, and work with them collaboratively to come up with recommendations. … It’s a collaborative approach …[you] work with the General Assembly, and department heads, and grantees, to do a better job with those scarce dollars.”

Listen to the full debate here. http://blog.markjohnsonshow.net/

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