Salmon deployed; challengers gearing up in auditor's race
By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau | September 21,2008
MONTPELIER – Given that he is a statewide office holder seeking re-election, Vermonters will hear unusually little from Auditor of Accounts Thomas Salmon. That's not just because Salmon, a Seabee with the U.S. Navy Reserves, is deployed to the Mideast and will likely be there until well after the election.
Under new federal rules governing the involvement of members of the military in elections, Salmon not only is prohibited from actively campaigning, but from participating in debates or interviews as well. In fact, as an incumbent seeking re-election, Salmon had to get permission from military leadership to even be on the ballot.
But given that – and even in part because of that deployment – Salmon is in an enviable position for a candidate. Two years ago he beat incumbent Republican Randy Brock in the tightest of possible margins that sparked a recount.
This year, Brock, himself a Vietnam veteran, declined to run against Salmon while Salmon was on active duty. That meant only one other candidate, Liberty Union member Jerry Levy of Brattleboro, was on any ballot for the September primary and Salmon will have both the Republican and Democratic lines on November's ballot.
Leslie Salmon, the auditor's wife and 2006 campaign manager, said that getting the Republican as well Democratic nominations is gratifying for Salmon.
"He has gotten lots of problems solved with people working together," she said by e-mail.
Salmon has since gained another challenger – Progressive Martha Abbott who ran against Brock and Salmon in 2006. Abbott was picked to represent her party by a nominating committee.
In part she is running to make sure there will be a contest in the race, and in part because Salmon will be overseas for many months into the new term.
"I am not planning on campaigning actively because the incumbent is not able to do that," said Abbott, who won just under 10 percent in the last election. "It seems to me that voters should have a choice.
"We need a full time auditor. That is why we have the position," she added, "If we can do without one for a year we can probably do without one."
In addition, she is running – as are several other Progressive candidates – to protect the party's ballot lines from being taken over by other candidates and to work to keep major party status for the Progressives by earning 5 percent in one of the statewide races this fall.
The auditor's office has several duties, including performing the standard annual audits of state and federal money that has been spent in Vermont. The office also issues special audits and reports, investigating problems and potential fraud involving public money.
Salmon, a certified public accountant, has paid particular attention to "repeat" audit findings. Those are reoccurring problems in money management — like departments not following proper accounting procedures — that are not headline grabbing, but take time to clear up.
Before he was called to active duty as a member of the Seabees, the Navy's construction corps, Salmon said that reducing the number of repeated audit findings will free up some money and time in future audits. That, in turn, will allow his office – which already hires contractors to help with the annual audit – to use those firms to do more of the "routine" review of money spending. Then those in his office will have more time to devote to special reviews.
Abbott argued last election that the auditor's office should do more performance audits that look not only at where the money is being spent, but what voters are getting for it in terms of success of programs.
"The auditor should be proactive in terms of keeping an eye on state government," she said. "There is a lot of room to be looking at the more high profile state programs and where the money is being spent.
"There is a reason why the auditor is elected. It is to be that sort of roving eye of the taxpayer," Abbott said.
Liberty Union candidate Levy said he does not plan on campaigning actively.
"We have a tradition in Liberty Union of offering alternatives," Levy said. In the past he has actively "electioneered" for office, said Levy, who teaches sociology at Marlboro College.
"I still believe in the Liberty Union platform and its perspective," he said.
"The job of the auditor is to make sure the money goes to the right places," Levy added. "I think I could do that – if by some miracle I was elected."
But Abbott said it is important that voters not see just one name on the ballot.
"There are way too many uncontested elections and that is part of why there was such low turnout in the primary" she said. "That is really where the ideas get tossed around and debated. It is really too bad we are seeing less and less contested elections, both at the primary level and at the general level."
"I don't think he would do anything differently, he loves his job," Leslie Salmon said.