Auditor General-John Maher

Herald Standard

Two state representatives with Southwestern Pennsylvania ties are vying to be Pennsylvania’s next auditor general to replace the outgoing Jack Wagner, who’s prohibited by law from seeking a third term in office.

When they go to the polls on Nov. 6, voters will decide between Republican candidate John Maher, a state representative from Upper St. Clair, Allegheny County, and Democratic candidate Eugene DePasquale, a representative from York County who grew up in Pittsburgh.

The auditor general has been the commonwealth’s fiscal watchdog since 1809, when it was created by an act of the General Assembly. The auditor general was appointed by the governor until 1850, when the position became an elected office. The term was increased from three to four years in 1909.

Maher, a representative since 1997, makes a simple, yet effective, case for office: as a licensed certified public account (CPA) who started an accounting firm, wrote books on accounting and taught accounting at the college level, he has the skills necessary to do the job.

Maher also touts his efforts as a reformer in the legislature, noting he sponsored the state’s open records and lobbying disclosure laws.

But the main thrust of his campaign is reflected in Maher’s campaign slogan of “CPA for Pa.”

If elected, Maher would be the very first licensed CPA to hold the post of auditor general in Pennsylvania. While his experience as a CPA is an asset, his critics, however, would note that he is quite some time removed from actual auditing, as he stepped away from the accounting firm he founded when he began his first term in the House of Representatives in 1997.

DePasquale, a three-term representative from York County, graduated from Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh. His grandfather was the late, colorful Pittsburgh councilman Eugene “Jeep” DePasquale. The younger DePasquale said he learned from his grandfather that you can be passionate about a subject, but you also have to know how to listen.

Depasquale admitted he’s not a CPA, but pointed to his tenure as director of economic development for York as proof that he knows how government works. He contended that the technical skill of conducting a financial audit is secondary to the need to be able to judge performance of government.

More importantly DePasquale said that with a Republican governor and the GOP controlling both the state House and Senate, he’ll be a more effective watchdog than Maher. Of course, Maher said he’ll have no problem investigating Republicans as well as Democrats, and we have no reason to doubt his sincerity, but DePasquale has a point about a Democrat being able to keep a more critical eye on Republican officeholders than a fellow member of the GOP.

We were impressed with both candidates and thought either would make a good auditor general. In the end, it was a choice between someone with a CPA background and someone who might be a better watchdog.

It was a very close and difficult decision, but a majority of the Editorial Board picked Maher over DePasquale, believing that the streak of auditors general in Pennsylvania not being CPAs should end in 2012.

The won’t be endorsing candidates for other statewide races such as treasurer, attorney general and U.S. Senate because the board didn’t have the opportunity to interview all the candidates in those elections.

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