Politics & Other Mistakes: Dunlap’s folly

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Matthew Dunlap wants to be an inspiration to our youth – because our youth are in dire need of inspiration from an old, bald, political hack.

Dunlap’s most recent public role was as Maine’s state auditor, a position filled every four years by the Legislature’s majority party. The law, not unreasonably, requires the auditor to have some sort of auditing license. Dunlap, a former Democratic legislator and marginally competent secretary of state (another political patronage job appointed by legislators), had no such license or any kind of auditing experience.

Al DiamonBut wait. The law also allows a newly installed auditor up to nine months to get licensed. Dunlap tried to do that but failed some of the required tests. In October of last year, he was forced to resign. It was then he embarked upon his quest to become an inspiration.

In an op-ed in the March 4 Bangor Daily News, Dunlap announced he’d finally been certified as an auditor. His message to the youthful population: “You can become anything.”

Actually, you probably can’t.

It’s unlikely you’ll grow up to be the starting center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. You stand next to no chance of becoming secretary-general of the United Nations. The only place you’ll sweep some Hollywood star off his or her feet is in your dreams.

The odds of you becoming the state auditor are nearly as long.

There is, however, a different message here, one that’s almost as inspiring: Matthew Dunlap is a shining example of why the Legislature should stop choosing unqualified people for constitutional offices such as attorney general, state treasurer, and secretary of state, as well as legally established posts like the auditor.

Let’s go a little further: The Legislature should stop choosing anyone for these jobs.

It’s way past time Maine did away with these vestiges of political patronage. The positions are too important to be handed out as rewards to party stalwarts like Dunlap, or as platforms for runs for higher office, as with Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.

Every couple of years there are attempts to change this system by passing a constitutional amendment to turn those posts into elected positions. These efforts usually go nowhere for a variety of reasons, but mostly because it’s a stupid idea.

The average voter would have no way of knowing whether the incumbent state treasurer was doing a good job, let alone ascertaining whether any challengers for the job had a reasonable grasp of what it entailed. Turning the selection process over to the clueless masses wouldn’t stop the parade of incompetent officeholders. It would institutionalize it.

There’s a simpler way, one that offers at least some safeguards to prevent blithering idiots from assuming these important public positions.

The governor should nominate candidates for these offices in much the same way as the guv picks potential judges. Those nominations should then go to the Legislature for confirmation. Once confirmed, the officeholders, like judges, would serve seven-year terms. That would shield them from political pressure and discourage those who wanted the spot only as a short-term stepping stone to major office.

We might still get the occasional boob, but it would be less of a common occurrence.

But back to good ol’ Matt Dunlap, who has his own idea for fixing the problem of finding a qualified state auditor. He wants to give non-auditors more time to get certified.

“First of all, nine months is categorically ridiculous,” Dunlap told the conservative website The Maine Wire. “Part of that’s on me because I had never taken so much as a bookkeeping class in high school. I had to learn everything from scratch, which gave me a tremendous handicap. I had a lot to learn and a little time to learn it. And the fact I did it in less than 14 months tells you it is doable, but nine months is probably too strict.”

The state auditor is paid about $120,000 a year. Not a bad salary for on-the-job training. Which may be why Dunlap says he hasn’t ruled out seeking that post again when the new Legislature convenes in December.

Call him inspired.

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