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The Journal Gazette

  • Klutz

  • Harper

  • Mitchell

Sunday, October 21, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

For state offices: Two incumbents and a newcomer

Allen County voters know the exemplary service Tera Klutz delivered for 15 years as county auditor and chief deputy auditor. Appointed state auditor by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017, she's doing the same in the handling, oversight and transparency of all of Indiana's funds.

Klutz's experience in local government, plus her expertise as a certified public accountant, make the Republican uniquely qualified and deserving of election to a full, four-year term. 

In the state treasurer's office, Republican Kelly Mitchell has brought a similar level of professionalism and has earned a second term as the state's chief investment officer.

Hoosiers would benefit, however, from the political balance Democrat Jim Harper would bring to the Statehouse as secretary of state. New ideas and talent are needed to build trust in an election process that saw one of the worst voter participation rates in the nation in 2016.

In the auditor's office, Klutz quickly strengthened internal controls and improved transparency. She's also working to upgrade technology, following processes used in Allen County. Her work in improving the Indiana Transparency Portal is key in delivering good government.

“My goal is to put more information out there, but also to make it user-friendly,” Klutz said. “We put a lot of big data out there that people have not had a chance to go through. When you do that – and all of our team, the separately elected state leaders, said to do it – knowing we are going to get questions about things that are on the site. But the questions will either have a good explanation, or maybe they won't and will affect change.

“When you work with public money, (information) should always be available,” she said. “You might not agree with how we're spending it, but you should know when we spent it, who we paid and what it was spent for.”

Joselyn Whitticker, the Democratic candidate for auditor, also has a Fort Wayne connection. The former Wayne High School principal lives in Marion and served as city council president there. She is an experienced administrator, but lacks the broad financial acumen Klutz brings to the job.

Treasurer Mitchell also has brought positive changes to her office, which handles investments in the Indiana State Police Pension Trust and has oversight of the state's 911 emergency board, the Indiana Education Savings Authority, the Indiana Bond Bank and TrustINdiana, a local government investment pool. 

Text-to-911, the ability to place an emergency call by text message, was rolled out in the last of 92 counties this year.  Another new program is INvestABLE, which allows Hoosiers with a disability to save up to $15,000 a year to spend on qualified expenses without jeopardizing eligibility for federal and state benefits.

Mitchell also has been an advocate for financial literacy in the schools.

“My constitutional job is to invest public funds,” she said. “We have returned well over $100 million to Hoosiers so far in my almost-four years. And that is certainly my No. 1 priority.”

Mitchell's challenger, John Aguilera, is a former Democratic state representative from East Chicago. His current work advising public employee unions and consulting on public pension fund legislation would be an asset, as would his experience on the House Ways and Means Committee during four terms as a legislator. Mitchell, however, has proved to be a capable administrator and deserves a second term.

Democrat Jim Harper makes a strong case for replacing incumbent Secretary of State Connie Lawson. The Valparaiso attorney said he believes there is much that can be done to improve voter turnout and he criticized Lawson for not doing more to protect the electoral process from security threats. He also said the secretary of state should take the lead on addressing gerrymandering, the practice of drawing election districts for partisan advantage.

“I think the chief elections officer certainly should be playing a public and leadership role in tackling that, and we haven't seen that,” he said.

Harper said all Hoosiers should be able to cast ballots with a voter-verified paper trail. He said the state should require a process that allows for verifying ballots.

“I think our democracy is under attack in this country,” Harper said. “And I think we can do a much better job of running elections in Indiana. ... (W)hen our electoral system is not functioning well, this is critical.”

The Indiana Election Commission cleared the way for Lawson to seek a full second term. The state constitution bars the secretary of state from serving more than eight years in a 12-year period, but the commission ruled her appointment in 2012 – after Republican Charlie White was ousted for felony voter fraud – did not count toward the eight years in office she would serve if re-elected this year.

Lawson said her office hasn't neglected election integrity measures and she said she advocated for federal support for security improvements as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

“We've done a lot to shore up the statewide voter registration system,” said the former state senator. “We've worked with the Department of Homeland Security, and they have done cyber-hygiene scans every two weeks to make sure our systems are working properly. ... I”m confident we have done everything we can possibly do.”

But the time the secretary of state spent on President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission would have been better spent on efforts to bolster voter participation. Instead, she undertook efforts to purge voter registration lists under the flawed Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program.  After Common Cause Indiana filed suit, a federal judge blocked the state from purging voters without giving them written notice.

Harper's election would provide a much-needed check on the GOP's lock on the Statehouse. 

Mark W. Rutherford is the Libertarian candidate for the office.