In 2010, Rebecca Otto won re-election by 1 percentage point.
Viewed in a positive light, she prevailed despite a banner GOP year that saw Republicans take control of the state House and Senate.
But looked at another way, Otto lagged well behind the other down-ballot DFL candidates in statewide races. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie won re-election by more than 3 percentage points, while Attorney General Lori Swanson cruised to an 11-point victory.
On Tuesday, Otto announced that she will be seeking another term in office, a development that had been widely anticipated. If successful, she would become the first three-term auditor since Arne Carlson held the post from 1979 to 1991.
“Every day that I get up I want to work on making sure that government is as efficient, effective and transparent as possible for the people of Minnesota,” Otto said, in a video announcing her campaign. “In our economy, across the country, we’re experiencing a new normal, where there won’t be as much revenue. And so we’re going to have to be focusing on major innovations in government to make sure that our roads are drivable, that our bridges stay up when we drive across them, that we can provide public safety and that we have a great place to live in this state.”
Otto has just one Republican opponent so far. Also on Tuesday, Randy Gilbert officially announced his intention to challenge Otto in 2014, although he had been openly preparing a run for months.
“I’m concerned about the silence that we currently have from our current state auditor and how the state of Minnesota might be receiving this silence,” Gilbert said at a press conference in the State Office Building. “I am fearful that the state of Minnesota is believing that all is well on the homefront, when in fact all is not well on the homefront.”
In particular, Gilbert cited unfunded pension liabilities, which were estimated at $16 billion as of June 2012, as a huge issue that’s not being meaningfully addressed. “I’m concerned that people are not talking more about the magnitude of this issue,” Gilbert said. “I am concerned for the individuals who are depending on those pension funds. I’m concerned that we have made promises to them that we’re not going to be able to keep.”
Second time seeking GOP endorsement
This is not Gilbert’s first run at the post. He sought the GOP endorsement in 2010. But after losing out to former Auditor Pat Anderson, he opted not to run in the primary. Gilbert said he will take the same approach this time around if GOP opposition emerges. “I will abide by the endorsing convention,” he said.
Gilbert has worked for the consulting firm Assurance Consulting 3 since 2006. In that job, he’s helped firms comply with new financial regulations that were part of the 2002 federal Sarbanes-Oxley Act. For more than two decades, he has owned a business, AdvantEdge Companies, which purchases and manages rental properties.
Gilbert’s been active in Long Lake politics for more than a decade. He served as mayor of the western Hennepin County municipality (pop. 1,768, according to the 2010 census) from 2005 to 2010.
State GOP Chair Keith Downey hailed Gilbert’s professional resume as a strong fit for the state auditor job. “He actually is an auditor, which would be a refreshing change,” Downey said.
But DFL Party Chair Ken Martin countered that there’s little evidence to suggest that Otto will be vulnerable. He points out that Anderson enjoyed much broader name recognition than Gilbert — she served as state auditor from 2003 to 2007 — and favorable political winds, but still came up short in 2010.
“Randy Gilbert doesn’t bring that kind of political acumen or profile to the race so I don’t know how he’s going to be able to beat Rebecca Otto,” Martin said. “I’m not too worried.”
Getting traction in down-ballot statewide races is always a challenge. Generally, it’s difficult to not get caught up in broader political winds in contests that few people pay attention to and receive little media attention. Case in point: Gilbert’s kickoff press conference was largely ignored by the Capitol press corps.
Anderson argues that Gilbert and other Republicans are also facing a disturbing long-term trend that’s made it extremely difficult to win statewide races. She points out that the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, while always DFL strongholds, have become even more hostile to Republicans in recent cycles.
“That’s the issue and that’s the dilemma for Republicans in Minnesota statewide races,” Anderson said. “We’re not making up the numbers in the other areas.”
Another potential problem is lack of resources. In recent years the state Republican Party has been mired in debt ($1.7 million in unpaid bills as of February) and largely ineffectual.
Martin argues that the governor’s race will need to be the overwhelming priority for Republicans — at the expense of down-ballot contests. “I don’t think they have the resources or the party’s healthy enough to compete in all of those races,” Martin said. “I don’t think they’ll put a lot of time and effort into those races.”
But Downey and Anderson both emphasize that the party is starting to recover from the financial woes stemming in part from debts incurred during the 2010 gubernatorial recount. “That remains to be seen,” Downey said, of what role the party will play in the auditor’s race. “We have I think effectively turned the corner.”
Anderson, who serves on the state GOP’s executive committee, emphasizes that the state party’s primary emphasis needs to be on statewide races. “I think that the party will have resources to help,” she said. “At least that’s our hope and I think that’s the track that we’re on.”