Editorials

Financial woes, residency issues — is this the best GOP could do for Missouri auditor?

Saundra McDowell
Saundra McDowell File photo

The official state manual describes the state auditor as Missouri’s independent watchdog responsible for ensuring that taxpayer dollars are well spent.

That makes us wonder why Republicans picked Saundra McDowell, 38, to be their candidate for this critical job.

The GOP somehow managed to land on a contender who would do just the opposite of inspiring trust and faith in the inner workings of state government. Lawsuits, court orders, debts and garnishments are all part of McDowell’s history.

Let’s start with basic judgment — or the lack of it. According to court records, McDowell and her husband signed a lease with an option to purchase a five-bedroom, five-bath, 6,121-square-foot home in Springfield. This came five years after they married in 2009.

The house came with a pool, sauna and home theater. It also came with furnishings that included 13 flat-screen television sets.

The records show that just five months later, the couple started missing house payments. Two months after that, in July 2015, the seller got an eviction order. Later, the seller obtained a pair of civil judgments ordering the McDowells to pay more than $50,000.

Today, a continuous wage garnishment order is on the books, meaning that if McDowell is elected in November, she would have at least a portion of her wages withheld to cover those debts.

McDowell has acknowledged in a statement that she and her husband “did struggle to make ends meet earlier in our careers,” but she places the blame not on her own poor decisions, but on “President Obama’s stagnating economy.” Said McDowell, “We have made every effort to pay off the debts that we owe, and we will continue to do so.”

Another pressing concern: Is McDowell even qualified to run for the office? The state constitution stipulates that the auditor must have been a Missouri resident for 10 years at the time of the election. But McDowell didn’t move to Missouri until 2010. And as late as 2013, she had a Mission, Kansas, address. Still, she insists that she established “intent” for residency before the 10-year cutoff on Nov. 6, 2008.

Legal authorities have debated whether McDowell qualifies. Incumbent auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, says she won’t challenge McDowell’s status. Still, the residency question looms as a giant red flag as McDowell launches her general election campaign.

“My husband and I established intent for residency more than 10 years ago,” McDowell said in the statement, “and any attempts to mischaracterize that as inadequate are ridiculous.”

There are other issues including a lawsuit from Nebraska Furniture Mart for failing to pay $698, an unpaid utility bill and paltry fundraising totals through July 26 of just $17,336 and campaign debt of $22,530. Unlike Galloway, she’s not a certified public accountant.

Republicans already are said to be grumbling about a lack of vetting and questioning whether McDowell can mount an effective campaign against a rising star like Galloway. There’s also the issue of whether electing an auditor who has struggled with her own finances is wise. Someone who’s the subject of an audit might be interested in helping McDowell with those debts in exchange for looking the other way. With dark money so common these days, anything’s possible.

We don’t like the looks of any of this. McDowell owes it to voters to fully address these serious concerns about her readiness for office.

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