Endorsement: Make Space the next Ohio auditor

Courtesy of the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram

Voters can pick a clearly superior candidate for the next state auditor: Zack Space.

We believe Space, a Democrat, has relevant public service experience and the integrity to provide nonpartisan fiscal oversight of state government and thousands of other political entities around Ohio.

A former lawyer, Space served two terms in Congress before he was defeated by U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, in the tea party wave of 2010. Since then, he has worked in the economic development and real estate sectors. Space said his law license is inactive.

Space’s main opponent in the race to replace outgoing Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican now running for attorney general, is state Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina. Faber, a lawyer, has served in both the state House and Senate since 2001.

There is a third option in the race: Libertarian Robert Coogan, a retired certified public accountant who spent much of his career working for Cincinnati Bell.

We were impressed with Coogan’s matter-of-fact manner and credentials, and were Space not in the race, we very well might have endorsed Coogan, despite his lack of political experience and his third party status.

One of the central promises of Space’s campaign is better oversight of charter schools, especially those run by for-profit management companies.

If elected, Space plans to put together a task force composed of investigators, auditors and educators to determine whether charter school operators overbilled the state, ripping off taxpayers.

Given the failure of the Republican-dominated state government to detect the bad behavior of the now-shuttered Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow earlier, we believe Space’s idea has merit.

ECOT failed in its mission to prepare students for their futures, and fought state efforts to provide more oversight of its activities. It was tracking how long students were logged into its online portal, but not what they were actually doing.

The answer was, for many students, not much, and the state is seeking to recover more than $80 million from the failed charter school.

Faber’s campaign has mocked the task force idea, and he told us during an endorsement interview that a special unit was unnecessary because the auditor’s office already had the tools to provide the necessary oversight. Either it did not have the tools or chose not to use them, because ECOT, a darling of “school choice” Republicans like Faber, didn’t receive the scrutiny it so plainly needed.

There is plenty of blame to spread around Columbus for the ECOT debacle, and Faber shares in it. We don’t believe he did enough during his time in the General Assembly, including while serving as president of the Ohio Senate, to rein in the excesses of ECOT.

Although Faber told us that bad actors in the charter school business should be held accountable, he seemed remarkably incurious to find out whether other misbehaving charter schools are lurking out there.

We also believe that Space would do a better job of carrying on Yost’s work of trying to audit JobsOhio, a largely unaccountable nonprofit organization focused on economic development. Space told us the “cloak of secrecy” that surrounds JobsOhio, which is funded through state liquor sales, must be lifted, and we agree.

Republicans, including Faber, have fought to keep Yost from auditing JobsOhio’s books, although they have been more supportive of legislation pending in the General Assembly that would allow for a performance audit.

Beyond ECOT and JobsOhio, Space talked about the importance of detecting fraud and theft early, and working with political subdivisions to improve their financial practices. He also said he wanted to upgrade the software and hardware used in the auditor’s office.

Importantly, whoever wins the auditor’s race will help redraw legislative and congressional districts following the 2020 census.

Even with redistricting reforms Ohio has developed in the past few years, we remain concerned that a Republican controlled state government could once again find ways to gerrymander the state to favor the GOP, as party members did with ruthless efficiency after the 2010 census.

This is not to say that Democrats wouldn’t do the same thing, but the fact is we have more trust in Space to approach redistricting fairly. Indeed, he pledged to do so.

Faber struck us as far more partisan than Space. Both said they would approach the auditor’s job in a nonpartisan way, but we have greater faith in Space’s independence than we do in Faber’s.

We urge voters to cast their ballots in favor of Space.

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