It is rare for voters to want a politician — especially a Kentucky politician — to stay in office beyond the term limit. But I have heard many people wish aloud that Crit Luallen could be state auditor for life.
The comments weren't meant to be critical of Adam Edelen or John T. Kemper III, the Republican whom Edelen defeated in Tuesday's election to succeed Luallen, a Democrat, who must leave after two four-year terms.
Those people were just acknowledging the outstanding job Luallen has done rooting out corruption and financial mismanagement in state and local government. She raised the bar high for future auditors.
"I believe this office has brought a new level of accountability to the oversight of public dollars," Luallen said in an interview last week. "And I think that has extended beyond just the folks who have been the target of our audits."
Luallen came to the auditor's office with a strong background in the financial management of state government. Her jobs with five previous governors included Finance Cabinet secretary, state budget director and secretary of Gov. Paul Patton's executive cabinet.
"I wanted to use this office in a way that went after some of Kentucky's historic challenges," she said. "I saw public corruption as one of those."
By law, the auditor's office conducts more than 600 regular financial audits each year of state and local government agencies. During Luallen's eight years, about 200 of those audits were referred to law enforcement agencies because of suspected criminal activity. As a result, 33 people pleaded guilty or were convicted of crimes.
But Luallen and her 135- member staff have attracted the most public attention for several special audits of quasi-government agencies, including Blue Grass Airport, the Kentucky League of Cities, the Kentucky Association of Counties and Passport Health Plan.
Three of those high-profile audits were done after Herald-Leader investigations raised questions about financial and other issues. Top officials resigned or were forced out after those audits, and the airport case resulted in criminal convictions.
Luallen's audits highlighted the fact that many quasi-governmental organizations were loosely governed by board members who didn't understand their responsibilities.
"In many cases there was a charismatic and polished staff leader who made the board feel very comfortable that things were going along just fine and they didn't need to ask tough questions," Luallen said.
The scandals prompted many of Kentucky's private, non-profit organizations to look hard at their own governance. "They contacted us and said, 'We want to be sure we understand what our responsibilities are and that we are doing the right thing,'" she said.
Luallen's office developed good-governance guidelines, and she has traveled the state talking about them. "We advise board members to ask questions, get engaged, provide the kind of oversight and governance that the law expects," she said.
Citizens should take a similar approach and demand that state and local government be more open and accountable. Luallen said it was no coincidence that the most historically corrupt parts of Kentucky are those with the least education, economic opportunity and civic engagement.
"The fundamental solution to more accountability is more education," she said. "The better educated our population, the more they're going to be involved in public process."
Asked what advice she would give her successor, Luallen said Edelen should surround himself with an outstanding professional staff, as she has done. Also, she said, "Never let political considerations or personal relationships color your decisions in this job."
Luallen thinks she accomplished that, despite the fact that many audits had political implications or involved people she had known for years, if not decades. "I can't think of a single thing we did that was not carefully grounded in the facts," she said.
As for her future, Luallen, 59, said she plans to seek elected office again but hasn't decided which one. She has been mentioned as a challenger to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014 or a future candidate for governor. "I'll be looking at all of my options," she said.
After leaving the auditor's office next month, Luallen said she plans to take a break to travel and spend time with her husband, Lynn, and their large extended family.
"My husband is a big advocate for me taking a break," she said. "We're negotiating on how long the break is. He's thinking maybe a year. I'm thinking maybe 15 minutes."