The Democratic nominee for State Auditor swooped through southwest Missouri Friday, meeting with the local party faithful in Joplin and Springfield. She also took time out to sit down with me for an interview on her race with Republican candidate Sandra Thomas. The main points were made in my story last night, but here's the entire interview for you to judge.
Montee believes she's more qualified than Thomas for the job because she's not only a certified public accountant, but a lawyer that could better handle performance audits. "I wouldn't make wholesale changes to the office, I believe it's running well," Montee said.
Montee said she would tackle the license fee office issue head-on, by trying to determine if the current system is the most efficient way to award the offices. "We can't even tell the effect because we're not able to get all the information," Montee said. "I think the first thing we do is call for open access to the books."
She wouldn't commit to mandating non-profits running the offices, but sounded very favorable towards the idea. "I think a plan that would let the county governments and the non-profits, might be a really good plan, really helpful to communities," Montee said.
Montee said she will be more independent than Thomas. "I believe that Sandra Thomas is tied to the Blunt administration very heavily. Her campaign manager came out of the Governor's staff. She has lots of ties to this administration and she will be dependent on those ties to get elected, which means she could not be independent after she's elected," Montee said.
She believes it would be difficult for Thomas to look into issues that would be "embarrassing or a problem to the Blunt administration."
"The literature being put out, the fundraising letter said we need to put Sandra Thomas in there, so we don't have people like Claire McCaskill troubling the Governor. The statements that have been made on her behalf as part of what Governor Blunt needs to keep running the operation is the problem. It isn't because she's a Republican."
Thomas said the auditor does not necessarily have to be from the opposing party in power. "I would not say that . . . That's not fair. I think it's beyond party politics."
Montee said she wouldn't necessarily be tougher on the Blunt administration. "There are times when you work together with the administration and there are times you have to stand up against the administration. If you have close ties, when the time comes to stand up against the administration, it'll be very, very difficult to do that."
When I asked Montee about the $195,000 in missing money from Platte County , she said the auditor is ultimately responsible. "If that would've happened in my county, we would've known because every month we go to the Treasurer, and we reconcile it. In my county, I would've been accountable for this if it had happened."
Montee also pledged to put more focus on the judicial system, where she said similar problems to the financial scandal in Springfield had come to light in the St. Joseph area. "I think part of it is identifying the high risk areas and certainly the courts are high risk areas, so maybe a little more attention should be paid to courts."
When I asked Montee why people in southwest Missouri should support her, when Thomas did so well here, she said "overall managerial experience."
"I have roots in southwest Missouri, I lived here, went to Drury. Down here, I think people voted for Sandra because of her qualifications and if they look at the qualifications in this race, they will vote for me. I have a broader range of accounting experience, I've worked with one of the largest firms in the country, had a solo practice and ran my own business. Sandra Thomas has been an auditor in Platte County for 12 years. That's not as much broad-range experience."
I called both Sandra Thomas and her campaign manager Ryan Johnson for a response to these charges and claims being hurled by Montee. Johnson called me back and said he preferred to respond through e-mail, rather than question by question. I wrote up a summary of things Montee said and got this response last night from the Johnson:
"Saying an Ambulance Chaser is some how better qualified than an award winning auditor is ridiculous. Besides, an 88 day out political attack from a liberal democrat operative is hardly the way to demonstrate who will best be able to shine the light on waste, fraud, and abuse. She clearly lacks credibility since her statement regarding Sandra Thomas' campaign manager working for Governor Blunt's staff is a lie. He has never worked a day in his life for either of the Blunts political or official organizations. Montee needs to get her facts straight and stop her self serving political attacks."
For the record, I have an open invitation to the Thomas campaign to do a similar sit-down interview with me the next time they are in the area.