John Howell’s Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sumrall’s for real, a great qualification state auditor

Mike Sumrall’s campaign for State Auditor is the story of the 2007 election year. His campaign for the Democratic nomination was at first regarded as quaint.

With no campaign budget, he set off on a road trip to visit every county seat in the state and pitch his candidacy. That pitch was mainly that the State Auditor needed to be an auditor and that he is an experienced auditor who is not interested in using the office of State Auditor as career ladder rung to higher office — say lieutenant governor.

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Along the way, most notably at the Neshoba County Fair, Sumrall got in a few good punchlines. They came mainly in self-depreciating jokes about himself. Sumrall, a portly guy, told the appreciative audience at Mississippi’s premier political rostrum that they would get more for their vote per pound by casting their ballot for him.

Also along the way, regard for his campaign shifted from quaint to “what if.” And to voters pleasant surprise, he won the Democratic nomination to face Republican Stacy Pickering in the November 6 General Election.

The State Auditor of Public Accounts is one of those down-ticket races that most of us are only vaguely aware of. Those old enough to remember Ray Mabus’ one term as State Auditor recall how much impact the auditor can have. The State Auditor is responsible for making sure our public money is properly spent — in towns, in counties, in schools. It could be argued that it is the elected office most important to the citizens of the state — that is, if the State Auditor sees himself as the guardian of the people’s tax money. If the auditor sees himself as on his way to higher office, then the people will get shorted.

(Admittedly, Mabus used the auditor’s office as a stepping stone to governor, but during those four years he used the existing rules and laws already on the books to cause a revolution of accountability in county government across the state.)

Sumrall’s campaign is sorely lacking the polish and finesse of big money campaign consultants and image coaches.

Visit his opponent’s Web site and you will find polish, finesse and TV-anchorman looks along with a list of endorsements from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, the Mississippi Association of Realtors and the Mississippi Asphalt Pavement Association. (Huh? What interest can these organizations possibly have in a state auditor candidate except perhaps quid quo pro from his prior service as a state senator.)

Visit Sumrall’s Web site and you might find it a little rough around the edges. (You will also find photos of all those courthouses he visited during his primary campaign — 82 counties and 90 courthouses.)

But you will also find a sincere, qualified candidate not cut out with a cookie cutter and an image not invented in the mind of a political consultant somewhere.

Mike Sumrall’s for real. That’s a great qualification for a State Auditor.