Rob Sand hires "tri-partisan" leadership for state auditor's office

The first Democrat to serve as Iowa’s state auditor in more than 50 years has hired a “tri-partisan leadership team” to help run the office.

At his swearing-in ceremony on January 2, Rob Sand announced his three top hires: John McCormally as chief of staff, Annette Campbell as deputy auditor for the Performance and Investigations Division, and Marlys Gaston as deputy for the Financial Audit Division. McCormally previously worked for the the Iowa Attorney General’s office; he and Sand have known each other for years and tried some cases together when both were assistant attorneys general.

Campbell and Gaston are longtime employees in the State Auditor’s office. Sand met Gaston during the transition period but has known Campbell for a long time. He told the assembled crowd she was “always great to work with” as his counterpart when he prosecuted public corruption cases.

While campaigning for his new job, Sand frequently promised to put people ahead of politics. In his first speech as auditor, he emphasized that his senior leadership team includes a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent. “Some of them even contributed to my opponent’s campaign. I don’t care. They are the three people who are most qualified for the jobs,” and he knows they are committed to serving the public. McCormally has served on the Iowa Democratic Party’s State Central Committee. Records confirm that Campbell and Gaston both made multiple contributions to the campaigns of the last two Republican state auditors, David Vaudt and Mary Mosiman.

In a written statement enclosed in full below, Sand also pointed out that “two new assistants that will report to office leadership are persons of color under the age of 25.”

It’s important to have diversity in any office, but especially in State Government. I’m proud that of the 5 hires I’ve made I made 3 are women, 2 are persons of color, and my new Chief of Staff brings along the kind of law enforcement experience I talked about on the campaign.

The Republican Party of Iowa has worked hard since the election to paint Sand as a hyper-partisan Democrat. GOP officials even got the Des Moines Register to run a full-length story in December framing the auditor-elect as a possible “Democratic attack dog.” On January 2, Associated Press reporter David Pitt asked Sand how he planned to keep the office from becoming political, in light of a yet another Iowa GOP press release sharply criticizing him.

Sand replied, “They’re a political party. They are never going to say anything nice about me. That’s fine. I’m going to keep doing the right thing regardless of what they say.” He again noted that the three people who will have “the most decision-making responsibility” in his office “politically represent everyone in the state: Democrat, independent, and Republican.”

The irony is that Sand’s predecessor was the most partisan state auditor in recent memory. Mosiman’s most significant acts during her final months in office were:

  • releasing a deeply flawed review of cost savings under privatized Medicaid. That audit avoided important questions and covered a time period that made no sense, unless the goal was to guarantee the findings wouldn’t come out before the November election.
  • releasing an audit of misspending by senior Iowa Finance Authority officials on the Friday between Christmas and New Year’s, when very few people are paying attention to state government news. Mosiman and former Iowa Finance Authority Director Dave Jamison, who was heavily implicated in the misconduct, have been close friends for many years and served together as Republican elected officials in Story County for a decade.
  • Reporters asked Sand about his top priorities after the swearing-in ceremony. He said “every audit will have efficiency recommendations on how to save taxpayer money.” During the campaign, Sand often mentioned that such analysis was lacking under Mosiman’s leadership.

    In addition, Sand’s team will start working on another key campaign promise: a fuller investigation of the Medicaid program. The goal will be “not just looking at reported cost savings,” but also talking to patients, providers, and the managed-care organizations now making decisions about health services and reimbursements. “The auditor’s role is really to figure out whether government is doing better or doing worse,” he explained. Financial matters are one part of that, but other factors are relevant too, such as “what kind of results we’re getting.”

    How will he work with Governor Kim Reynolds and the GOP-controlled legislature? Sand has already met with some Republican lawmakers and is scheduled to meet with Reynolds on January 4. “Iowans sent us here. All of us. And they didn’t send us here to fight each other. They sent us here to get good work done, and that’s going to be my priority.”

    Will he order any additional investigation of the Iowa Finance Authority? Sand said the audit released on December 28 appeared to be “thorough,” but “serious questions” remain regarding Jamison’s conduct, especially “his deception of the Executive Council.” This spring, Sand requested and later released public records indicating that pertinent information was withheld from that five-member board of state elected officials before they approved Jamison’s plan to lease new office space for the agency in Des Moines.

    On the campaign trail, Sand often discussed the need for the state auditor’s office to employ more people with a law enforcement background. He told reporters yesterday that any new hires would depend on his budget. In addition to McCormally, he hopes to bring in at least one more person who has worked either as a prosecutor or an officer with a law enforcement agency.

    A few final notes of interest to Iowa political junkies:

  • Only two Democrats served as state auditor during the 20th century, Pitt reported. Both won in Democratic landslide years: Charles Storms was elected in 1932 and Lorne Worthington in 1964.
  • Sand won 660,169 votes (51.0 percent) to 601,320 (46.4 percent) for Mosiman. He carried 25 counties, more than twice as many as the Democratic nominee for governor. A forthcoming Bleeding Heartland post will look more closely at the state auditor’s election.
  • Sand is just the third challenger to defeat a statewide Iowa office-holder in the last three decades. The previous two incumbents to lose were Democrats: Governor Chet Culver and Secretary of State Michael Mauro, both in the 2010 GOP wave.
  • Attorney General Tom Miller and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, both Democrats, attended Sand’s swearing in ceremony. The only Republican statewide elected official to show up was Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, along with his department’s top deputy Julie Kenney.
  • Sand’s campaign manager Andrew Turner will be an executive assistant in the state auditor’s office, with responsibilities similar to those of a communications director. Many Democratic insiders had expected him to take a senior position on a presidential campaign this year, since Turner worked on Martin O’Malley’s campaign before the 2016 caucuses and managed Josh Mandelbaum’s hard-fought race for a Des Moines City Council seat in 2017.
  • January 2 press release from the state auditor’s office:

    Rob Sand Announces Official Staff Hires: Emphasis placed on both gender, racial, and professional diversity

    Today to a crowd of over 200 guests at his swearing-in, State Auditor Rob Sand announced a “tri-partisan” leadership team, with a Democrat, a Republican, and an Independent among Chief of Staff John McCormally, Performance and Investigations Division Deputy Annette Campbell, and Financial Audit Division Deputy Marlys Gaston.

    Two of the three contributed to his opponent’s campaign, yet Sand promoted them because “They are the most qualified people for the positions and, as I’ve always said, this office is about putting the public ahead of one’s party.”

    In addition, two new assistants that will report to office leadership are persons of color under the age of 25.
    “It’s important to have diversity in any office, but especially in State Government. I’m proud that of the 5 hires I’ve made I made 3 are women, 2 are persons of color, and my new Chief of Staff brings along the kind of law enforcement experience I talked about on the campaign.”

    -State Auditor Sand

    “My office and our senior leadership team reflects Iowans I was elected to serve, having one Independent, one Republican, and one Democrat. Iowans can be comfortable knowing that we’re all going to work as a single team to look after their tax dollars.”

    -State Auditor Sand

    Top image: Story County Magistrate Amy Moore swears in State Auditor Rob Sand at the Iowa state capitol on January 2, 2019, as the auditor’s wife Christine Sand looks on. Most statewide officials are sworn in by the chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, but Sand asked Moore to do the honors because his family and Moore’s family have been good friends for about ten years.

    UPDATE: Keith Turrill of Turrill Images in Burlington gave me permission to publish one of his photographs from the swearing in.

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