Things got heated Wednesday night during a state auditor and inspector Republican primary debate at Trolley Stop Record Shop in Oklahoma City.
“Let me finish, please,” candidate Charlie Prater said early in the debate to opponent Cindy Byrd. “You do not interrupt. It’s rude.”
“It is rude to interrupt your elders,” Byrd replied quietly before Prater said, “please let me finish” and continued discussing the relationship of the Oklahoma Legislature with the state auditor and inspector’s office.
For the next 35 minutes of the event, Byrd and Prater jabbed at each other repeatedly, debating the merits of a new legislative agency performance commission and arguing over who made negative allegations on their website first.
Byrd emphasized that her institutional knowledge as a deputy state auditor made her the more qualified candidate, while Prater insisted the state auditor and inspector’s office needs new blood. Earlier in the day, fellow GOP candidate John Uzzo had canceled his appearance at the debate, which NonDoc, Let’s Fix This, Generation Citizen and Folded Owl co-hosted.
The winner of Tuesday’s GOP primary election will face Libertarian candidate John Yeutter in the general election.
What does the state Auditor and Inspector do?
Article VI, Section 19 of the Oklahoma Constitution outlines the duties of Oklahoma’s state auditor and inspector.
Essentially, the state auditor is charged with providing the government and citizens with unbiased examinations of state and county financial practices.
In a year when many gubernatorial and legislative candidates are calling for additional audits on state agencies, people across Oklahoma watched the debate on multiple Facebook Live streams.
Like other statewide offices, auditor candidates must be at least 31 years of age and have been a qualified elector in Oklahoma for the past 10 years. Unlike other state agencies, however, the state auditor and inspector has professional prerequisites.
“The State Auditor and Inspector must have had at least three years’ experience as an expert accountant,” the Oklahoma Constitution states.
Cindy Byrd: ‘I have been performing audits for 21 years, not 20 years ago’
Byrd cast herself as an experienced auditor from the beginning, taking pride in her two decades of government service.
“This race, this year, is for the political outsider. Except for the office of state auditor and inspector. Why? Because this office, the experience is so critical to going forward,” Byrd said in her opening remarks.
Despite repeated references from Prater about diminished returns for putting an insider back into office, Byrd maintained that she was the best choice for that exact reason, among others. She emphasized her experience auditing on the county level several times.
“One of the things that I would do as the next state auditor is I would incorporate (at the state level) some of the same procedures and practices that are required at a county government level,” Byrd said. “We make each entity give us a complete explanation of why money is being transferred any time it’s being transferred out of a fund and into another fund.”
Byrd was relentless as she pushed Prater about a civil suit in which Prater alleges he was defrauded by his business partners.
“You also signed a guarantor. (An) unconditional promise of payment,” she said. “So I’m confused. You promised to pay and didn’t keep your word, but then you say things happen you weren’t aware of. Were you asleep at the wheel? Were you not auditing those things as you went along?”
Prater countered and said people have to stick up for themselves if they believe they have been defrauded.
“I filed a suit against them for fraud, and I’m not any different from somebody like any normal businessman. At least I’m [able] to go out and do investments, and this is one that went wrong and there’s a dispute between the two parties,” Prater said. “I will tell you that we might as well throw President Trump out of the office if we’re throwing people out, saying they’re not qualified because they got in a business deal and it ended up in a dispute and a lawsuit.”
In her closing remarks, Byrd again emphasized her insider perspective, touting her leadership experience as she emphasized her vision for the office of state auditor and inspector.
“I will work to have transparency and accountability on every single state agency,” she said. “I know how to do a job. There will be no questions from me, I know how to hit the ground running on day one, and I want to be your next state auditor.”
Charlie Prater: ‘We need change. I’m that.’
Opposite his opponent, Prater cast private sector experience as his most qualifying attribute for state auditor and inspector.
“I’m not a career employee, like my opponent, and I gotta tell you, you get more of the same if you stay with career people,” he said. “We need change. I’m that.”
One of Prater’s main complaints against Byrd was the fact she has taken campaign donations from current and retired county officials whose jurisdictions she audits.
“I believe being independent is the primary thing in being objective and I don’t have any conflicts of interest of taking money from people that I audit, like my opponent,” Prater said.
Byrd questioned Prater’s auditing experience, saying that while he has significant accounting experience, she has spent more time performing actual audits. Prater responded that he does have experience.
“When I went into the private sector, I joined a company, a financial services company. We grew by acquisitions, and acquisitions means you have to go in and audit the target companies,” Prater said. “I was the person that went in and audited. (…) I did it with the staff. We were successful in all 35 acquisitions. Large, large acquisitions.”
Prater again emphasized Byrd’s insider status in his closing remarks, maintaining that he can bring a fresh perspective to state government.
“We need a new look into our sate government. We keep putting the same people back and still getting the same result,”he said. “That’s the definition of insanity. I bring change, I bring new direction, and I also have operated at a little bit higher level than county audits.”
Republican Attorney General debate set for Saturday
Current Attorney General Mike Hunter and GOP challengers Gentner Drummond and Angela Bonilla will debate 2 p.m. Saturday, June 23 at the Tower Theatre in OKC. The debate is also co-hosted by NonDoc, Let’s Fix This and Generation Citizen.
The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Mark Myles in the general election in November.
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(Editor’s note: Ben White’s father was a fellow investor in the business venture discussed by candidates during the debate. NonDoc discloses details such as these in an effort to promote full transparency regarding its articles.)