Missouri auditor candidates question each other’s qualifications in first debate

Saundra McDowell (left) and Nicole Galloway are facing off in the race for Missouri auditor.
Saundra McDowell (left) and Nicole Galloway are facing off in the race for Missouri auditor. File photos

The two leading candidates for Missouri auditor clashed Friday in the first debate of the campaign season, with each lobbing accusations at the other’s qualifications to hold the office.

Democrat Nicole Galloway, who has held the office since 2015, said Republican Saundra McDowell has a history of lying about her personal finances, her resume and her residency. She said she would be hesitant to hire McDowell “as an entry level auditor given her issues.”

McDowell punched back at Galloway by pointing to a lawsuit by a conservative nonprofit accusing the Democrat of violating the state’s Sunshine Law. She said Galloway has fallen short of her job to take on public corruption, “and if you’re not a watchdog, then you’re just a dog. And I’ll be a bulldog.”

The debate, which was sponsored by the Missouri Press Association, also featured three other candidates for auditor: Constitution Party candidate Jacob Luetkemeyer, Libertarian Sean O’Toole and Green Party candidate Don Fitz.

But the frontrunners trained their fire squarely on each other.

McDowell has faced questions surrounding whether she meets the residency requirement in the constitution to run for auditor. The constitution says a person must live in Missouri 10 years to serve as auditor, but McDowell lived in Kansas in 2013. She refused to clarify Friday when asked by reporters why she never mentioned her time living in Kansas before it was discovered by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month.

She was also attacked by Galloway for her history of financial problems, including numerous lawsuits she has faced regarding unpaid debt.

Galloway said those poor finances could lead to corruption in the auditor’s office.

“What Missourians don’t need is an auditor so financially compromised that she may take dark money… to look the other way in audits,” Galloway said.

McDowell said she is the most qualified person running for auditor, pointing to her experience in the Air Force and more recently as an investigator in the attorney general’s office and in the securities division of the secretary of state’s office.

“I’m a soldier with a legal mind,” McDowell said. “I’m ready to fight for the people of Missouri.”

Accusations made by Galloway that she exaggerated her resume are completely false, McDowell said, and were not worth dignifying with a response during the debate.

Galloway and McDowell also disagreed over the proposed constitutional amendment called Clean Missouri.

Clean Missouri, which would appear as Amendment 1 on voters’ ballots, included a major redistricting proposal and proposed lowering campaign donation limits, eliminating nearly all lobbyist gifts, requiring legislators and Statehouse staffers to wait two years before taking jobs in lobbying and opening legislative records.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green on Friday ordered it off the November ballot after ruling the proposed amendment violated a provision in the Missouri Constitution that limits the scope of initiative petitions. Under the provision, a proposal can amend only one article of the constitution. A proposal for a new article can cover only one subject.

Galloway said she has long fought to root out corruption in Missouri, and thus, she supports the proposal.

McDowell vehemently opposes Clean Missouri, specifically because it “politicizes” the auditor’s office by giving it a hand in the redistricting process.