For the First Time in 40 Years, Someone Other Than a Gainer Will Hold W.Va. Auditor's Office
Long-time Democratic state auditor Glen Gainer announced in 2015 that he would not seek re-election this year and in the spring, stepped down from his post 8 months before the end of his term.
With a wide open seat, a politically connected Republican and an underdog Democrat have traveled West Virginia rounding up support for their candidacies, but the election marks the first time in 40 years someone with the last name of Gainer will not be elected to the office.
The previous auditor, Glen Gainer III, was first elected in 1992. His father, Democrat Glen Gainer Jr., was elected auditor in 1977 and held the office until his son’s election.
Republican John McCuskey, known as J.B. around the statehouse where he represents Charleston’s 35th House of Delegates District, was born in Clarksburg. He’s the son of a former judge and a graduate of the West Virginia University College of Law.
McCuskey says as he's campaigned across West Virginia, he's found himself having to educate the electorate about the office itself and his race, likely because the previous auditor held the office for more than 20 years. He also focuses, though, on sharing a positive message with West Virginians.
“Every time I make a speech I like to tell people that I am just wildly optimistic about the future of West Virginia and I think that’s very motivating for people because they hear a lot of negative stuff about our state," McCuskey said in an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting in September.
"I encourage people to, when they tell their friends that live other places, try to be as positive as possible, try to focus on the things we have going right because if we don’t, it’s not going to get turned around.”
His Democratic opponent is Mary Ann Claytor, the daughter of a coal miner. Born near Campbell’s Creek in Kanawha County, Claytor has 20 years of experience as an employee of the auditor’s office, where she actually audited the finances of local governments.
“I think when they think of a bean counter they think of a very boring person, but I have a very energized base, both Democrats and Republican honestly because even when I meet those people that are strictly party lines on the other side they understand, yea, that needs a skill set,” she said, adding that with an accounting degree and experience working in the office, she has that skill set.
When it comes to the policy issues in the auditor’s race, they’re pretty technical. Beginning under the Manchin administration, the state has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in a new computer operating system and the Auditor is a major player in its implementation.
OASIS, as it’s known, allows a variety of systems in state government to talk to one another. It controls payroll and budgeting and tracks the timelines of state projects like new roads or bridges, among many other things.
The system that has had a number of issues and faced major delays and both candidates said had state leaders known of the budgetary issues ahead for West Virginia, they would have waited to invest in it, but McCuskey and Claytor want to make sure the state is getting what it paid for.
“Since we’ve already done it, you know, and we’ve spent that money, we need to make sure that the product that we have purchased works to our best interest and the best interests of the citizens,” Claytor said.
As auditor, Claytor would orchestrate a review of the initial contracts for the OASIS operating system and take the issues straight back to the vendor to be fixed. McCuskey said he’ll also review the system issues, but his priority is to make sure employee trainings are completed and the system is fully operational.
“Because the taxpayers of this state have spent dearly for this system and they deserve the results they were promised,” he said.
Over the past four years, the Auditor’s Office has had to endure budget cuts of up to 32 percent.
Both McCuskey and Claytor say they want to balance continued savings with protecting the important services the office provides.
McCuskey said from the outside looking in, it’s hard to tell exactly where those savings are, but Claytor said she’ll look to the top ranks of the office staff to find them.