I had chance to talk to State Auditor Rebecca Otto after her speech at the DFL state convention. I rather proved my proclaimed volunteer status as a reporter by discovering half the interview was lost, due, I expect, to operator error, meaning I’m guessing I accidentally hit the stop button. In the part I lost, I asked her about the reference in her speech to her predecessor using reports for partisan purposes, which I noted in the live blog. Otto expanded on that, explaining that local governments would come to the auditor’s office for help, but instead of getting help, would be held up for ridicule. The prior auditor, Pat Anderson, whom Otto defeated in 2006 and again in 2010, preferred to use the government’s problems to make herself look like an enemy of government waste. It’s easy to imagine what this did to the trust local governments had in the auditor’s office. Why bring problems forward if you’re going to be attacked for them?
So the first challenge Otto had was restoring trust. Given that looking like the enemy of government waste plays well regardless of party, governments might well be as suspicious of an auditor of one party as the other. It took time to get local governments thinking of the state auditor as someone looking to help them get their accounting right rather than looking to jump on them when they made a mistake. That rebuilding of trust is part of why she has won recognition from her peers across the country.
Q. Are you getting much pushback on your vote on the sulfide mining?
A. I thin kthe Republicans are trying to make an issue of it, but really, no. Initially, there were some people who made some claims about my vote that were not correct, and that was Republicans, in my opinion, and I’m not pro- or anti- mining. What I’ve been is all about the finances. So that these foreign multi-national corporations that come into our state know that we mean business, and that we’re going to make sure that they have incentive to protect us from any future cleanup costs, or maybe injury to our workers, or anything like that, so that they don’t leave a financial burden behind once they take the non-ferrous minerals and leave.
Q. I’ve noticed you using the term “damage deposit”.
A. I’ve been using it so when I talk to people in general, I talk about a “damage deposit” like you would about an apartment. They’ve got a more technical name, “financial assurance”, but people understand what a “damage deposit” is, and it incents you to make sure you get it right, and the mining companies have to put enough down to reclaim the land afterward. And that’s usually more of a known cost. It’s the issue around water treatment that may be required that is the more unknown cost. And so again, letting any of these foreign multi-national corporations understand that we may be “Minnesota nice”, but we’re not naive, and not to mistake our “nice” for “naivete”. We’re not. And so that we have high standards, and that we expect them, if they’re going to come in, to be good stewards of our natural resources.