OLYMPIA, June 7.—Mark Miloscia, Democratic candidate in this year’s race for state auditor, has the kind of resume that would get him into the final round of any job interview. He has been ferreting out government waste since he worked as an auditor in the Air Force. Remember the $8 light bulb that cost taxpayers $500? He’s the one who found it. During 14 years in the state House, Miloscia has made government performance and accountability his passion, urging the latest quality-management principles be applied to state government. He also has a long record of support for organized labor. But there’s just one problem. He’s against gay marriage.
The way things seem to be going in Democratic-party circles these days, he says, that’s an automatic disqualifier.
“As one Democratic activist told me recently, he wouldn’t vote for me for dogcatcher, because he said I support discrimination.”
In the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear that Miloscia, of Federal Way, is facing an uphill battle in the race to succeed longtime state auditor Brian Sonntag. And the frustrated candidate doesn’t need to put on a green eyeshade to find the problem. Miloscia says it’s that he’s a social conservative, a Catholic who opposes gay marriage and abortion as strongly as he supports performance audits. Thus a story you expect to encounter more often on the Republican side of the aisle is being played out this year in Democratic ranks, in reverse.
“Democrats have historically made fun of Republicans with their litmus tests, and now here we are doing the same thing,” Miloscia says. “There are more and more people who are saying that you cannot be a Democrat if you disagree on these core social issues. I think it’s a sure way to become a minority party, and it sure isn’t a way to govern.”
Pitfalls of a Down-Ballot Race
Social issues in a race for state auditor? The position has nothing to do with the battles over morality that periodically inflame the statehouse. But that’s what it seems to have come down to, at least in the early phase of the race. Miloscia is one of four candidates for the position. Also running are state Rep. Troy Kelley, D-Tacoma, and Republican James Watkins. But in a down-ballot race like this one, where no one bothers with polling, candidates are lucky to get news coverage and they have trouble raising a dime, endorsements are all-important. And in recent weeks state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, has been racking up an impressive run.
Pridemore barely missed the mark at the state Labor Council convention, due to his votes for unemployment insurance and workmen’s compensation bills last year, but he has the nod of the Federation of State Employees and a host of other individual unions, as well as numerous legislative-district Democratic organizations. Last weekend, he picked up the big prize, the endorsement of the state Democratic convention.
Pridemore can cite an impressive financial background of his own, including eight sessions of service on nitty-gritty policy committees within the state Legislature dealing with economic forecasts, pensions and state-government operations. But in his public appearances, Pridemore never lets the audience forget where he stands on the social agenda – that’s how he can make a clear distinction. At the state labor council convention, he got one of the biggest cheers of the day when he declared, “I intend to fight for the rights of everyone in the state, including those of women and gays and lesbians.”
Smart politics? To be sure. But it’s enough to make Miloscia bury his head in his hands.
Test of Purity
What on earth does gay marriage have to do with auditing? That’s what Miloscia wants to know. Certainly it’s a hot-button issue this year, with the Legislature’s approval of a gay marriage bill in February and a referendum all but certain to go to voters in November. But by making that an issue in a race for a position that has nothing to do with it, Miloscia says Pridemore is driving a wedge deep into the Democratic party. Maybe as many as 20 to 30 percent of Democrats believe as Miloscia does, he says. If they’re read out of the party, where do they go?
“Democrats traditionally do not like the way Republicans use wedge issues to distract the voters,” he says. “And here my opponent is doing exactly the same thing right now. Everywhere we go, the main issue is marriage equality, in the race for the state auditor’s office. Now, I don’t see the connection. Maybe you do.”
And it’s a little spooky. Miloscia says he can usually win people over when he starts talking about his vision for the office. “But then, all of a sudden, the subject of gay marriage comes up, and they say, look, I’m sorry, I can’t support you – it’s that quick. And it has happened increasingly, more and more. I have had people withdraw their endorsements. My opponent’s supporters are actually going after the people who endorsed me and challenging them, ‘Why are you supporting a bigot?’
“When activists are targeting your supporters and making it uncomfortable and saying you’re not a good Democrat because you are supporting a bigot, that’s a little tough for some people to handle. So that’s the kind of pressure that’s going on, when they’re not going after you, they’re going after your supporters.”
Passion for Auditing
Miloscia, a substitute teacher in the Federal Way School District when the Legislature is not in session, says he ran for office 14 years ago precisely because of the type of issues with which the state auditor deals. “Making our government more efficient and more effective, more ethical, restoring trust in government – that has been my mandate since I ran for office in the very beginning.”
In the Air Force he was part of the team that monitored Boeing contracts on the B-1 bomber. He wasn’t the one who discovered the notorious $700 hammer and the $600 toilet-seat cover that made headlines in the ‘80s, but he did find that $500 light bulb.
He was an early convert to “lean,” quality management, Baldridge principles and all the other efficiency and accountability concepts that have swept big business over the last three decades. “That’s how you get better,” Miloscia says. “It’s not by adding more rules and regulations, the old ‘70s way, which stifles innovation and creativity and starts costing more. It’s about empowering and training workers and making them accountable – that’s performance management in a shake.”
In 2005, he sponsored and passed a bill that ended a 30-year prohibition on performance audits by the state auditor’s office. That gave the auditor power beyond the normal course of the usual financial-compliance audits, to analyze and criticize the way state-government agencies operate. Later that same year a Tim Eyman initiative, I-900, expanded the program and boosted the funding – a measure Miloscia says he was glad to endorse. Miloscia says he looks askance at periodic efforts to reduce funding for the program, and chalks it up to administrative resistance to change. This year he passed a last-minute budget amendment requiring every state agency to apply for a Washington State Quality Award – an application that triggers an assessment of its management, accountability and performance.
Sustainabity an Issue
Certainly there may be other reasons Miloscia isn’t picking up party support. He has been a no vote on the budgets written by his fellow Democrats, because he says they aren’t sustainable. “One party’s answer is let’s keep raising taxes forever, let’s be like Sweden,” he says. “And the other party’s answer is let’s ignore it and it will get better.” And then, of course, there was the way he registered his protest in 2010. He challenged Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, for the speakership of the state House. That was noticed – but perhaps not in the right way.
Miloscia says he may be disconcerted by the emphasis on social issues in this year’s race, but he isn’t daunted. Because it is a low-profile race, there still is a chance to reach the general public with a message of government reform. “When you get right down to it, people are rooting for government to get better, and at the end of the day I think that is what we all want,” he says. “So it is heartening to see that issue is across the board – when I get them to stop talking about gay marriage and abortion.”