The race for Washington state auditor, which began to heat up last week when candidate James Watkins launched a website chronicling a history of past civil litigation involving his opponent, state Rep. Troy Kelley, reached a full boil Wednesday during a debate at AWB's Policy Summit.
"This race got kind of interesting last week," moderator Peter Callaghan, columnist for The News Tribune, said at the start of the exchange.
With that, Watkins, a Republican, and Kelley, a Democrat, spent the better part of an hour questioning the fitness of their opponent to serve as the state auditor.
Watkins returned frequently to the website his campaign launched -- factchecktroykelley.com -- and allegations he first leveled at Kelley during a taping of the TVW program "Inside Olympia," including tax evasion and misappropriation of funds.
The website has attracted attention from voters, Watkins said. He said a man stopped him over the weekend and asked, "Are you the thief or are you the other guy?"
"That's not the way I wanted this race to work, but that is the race we have," Watkins said.
Kelley responded by saying the allegations are basesless, the lawsuits cited on the website were settled and that there were no judgments against him.
And then he took his own shots, repeatedly questioning whether Watkins has really presided over 150 performance audits as Watkins has claimed.
"It strains credulity," Kelley said.
In between, the candidates also spoke briefly about policy issues, including the proper role of the auditor's office, their ideas for handling performance audits -- a central achievement of outgoing Auditor Brian Sonntag -- and ways in which the auditor can promote open government.
The candidates found common ground when asked about the need for the auditor's office and whether it should be partisan. When asked whether the office should be eliminated, and if not whether it should be a partisan post, Kelley said no on both counts.
Watkins agreed there is no need to abolish the office, and it should be independent and non-partisan.