If you’re going to represent all of Ohio, Keith Faber reasons, you have to show that each part of the state matters.
Faber traveled to Athens on Thursday evening for the Athens County Republican Party’s fall dinner, racking up more miles to a campaign that has already spent significant time on the road.
He counted more than 500 events in all 88 counties, adding up to 160,000 miles traveled this election cycle. In total, that’s the equivalent of making 34 round-trips of driving from Athens to Los Angeles and back, with a month of campaigning still to go.
Such is politics in 2018. Even as the advent of social media has made political marketing simpler and cheaper than ever for those on the ballot to grab voters’ attention, candidates are going back to the basics. Shake some hands, detail your motives for running, and most of all give voters a face to put with the name to be seen on the Nov. 6 ballot next to a blank bubble.
Faber’s challenge in this auditor of state race, as far as Southeast Ohio is concerned, is that his opponent happens to be a known commodity around these parts. His Democratic opponent is Zack Space, a former congressman from 2007 to 2011 whose district once covered much of Athens County. (It is territory now held by Rep. Steve Stivers.)
The two are battling to fill a statewide office held by Republican Dave Yost, who is term-limited and is campaigning this fall for Ohio Attorney General.
The auditor of state office is responsible for conducting audits for all public offices in Ohio. The office’s website reports there are more than 5,900 such entities, “including cities, counties, villages, townships, schools, state universities and public libraries as well as all state agencies, boards and commissions.”
The office is focused on ensuring Ohio residents are served by “accountable and efficient governments” throughout the state.
The Messenger interviewed Faber earlier Thursday as he prepared to headline that night’s Republican dinner.
Faber is a state representative whose district covers a rural swath of western Ohio along the border with Indiana. He is also a former state senator who spent 2013-16 as president of the Ohio Senate.
“I represent a rural area of the state,” he said, highlighting his travels. “Every part of Ohio is important.”
The financial aspect of the job is important, Faber said, but a major focal point of his campaign deals with performance audits of state agencies — these are efforts to closely scrutinize the agencies to find ways they could operate more efficiently. The main goal is to save taxpayers money, the candidate said.
At present, only two such audits are carried out every year. There are around two-dozen state agencies, from the Ohio Department of Education to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. That means a given state agency would only face a performance audit every 10 or so years at the two-per-year pace.
Faber said he would mandate there be four or six such audits conducted each year, guaranteeing that agencies are examined more often.
In addition, he said there would be further performance audits of state universities. Among the first of these was recently completed on Ohio State University, Faber said. OSU received numerous suggestions on how to make changes (and appropriate cuts) to save money with the goal to make higher education more affordable.
In the end, it would be up to these entities to decide themselves whether to go forward with implementing these recommendations, though Faber guessed in most cases they would be.
“It tends to work pretty well,” he said of the performance audits.
Faber characterized himself as a “huge advocate” for increasing access to public records. He said as state auditor he would make sure public entities are complying with Ohio public records law. As one example of improving public access, he said that city council meeting minutes and agendas should be made available online for easier viewing.
Though noting the duties of the auditor office is “clearly laid out,” Faber detailed topics in which there is an intersection between the role he’s seeking and other statewide offices. For example, the state auditor does not directly oversee the drug courts in Ohio, but Faber said analyzing how they operate could improve how effective the programs are.
“I generally believe the auditor has plenty to do,” he said.
Along those lines, Faber said as auditor he would communicate with other state officeholders far more often than is apparently happening now. A recent Dayton Daily News story quoted Yost, the current auditor of state, as saying he hadn’t seen Kasich in more than a year. Yost told that newspaper the “last substantive conversation we had was years ago, maybe 2014 or ‘15.”
“Communication is very important,” Faber said, adding that he would want to meet at least monthly with other officeholders to identify ways they could work together.
Faber was also asked by The Messenger to describe how the auditor of state office plays a role in funding for local governments. He said that if elected he would figure out ways to make audits on smaller entities more affordable. (Such audits are paid for by the entity being audited, not by the state which conducts them.)
Faber said he’s heard complaints on the subject while on the campaign trail. He added that while “it’s always been that way,” this cost can be a disproportionate burden on smaller areas.
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Space was featured by The Messenger in November 2017 as the Democrat campaigned in Athens County. Among his main topics was discussing ways he believed the region was “left behind” by state government.
“Money matters,” he said at the time, criticizing area legislative districts as being gerrymandered. “In many cases your democracy is not for sale — it’s already been sold to the highest bidder.”
A state constitutional amendment was passed by voters in 2015, which helped create the Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission, The Messenger previously reported. This will take effect in 2021 when the next redistricting occurs (it takes place every 10 years). There will be seven members of the Ohio Bipartisan Redistricting Commission, with one of them being the state auditor.
Space has made gerrymandering a focal point of his campaign, noting that the auditor election will determine whether Space or Faber will be seated on that board.
Space was quoted in the 2017 story as saying he was running for state auditor to “correct these injustices” and that if elected he would be a “watchdog over taxpayer money.”
[email protected] ; @tylerjoelb