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2 Democrats face off in Vt. auditor primary

By Wilson Ring
Associated Press Writer / July 8, 2010

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MONTPELIER, Vt.—The two Democrats running for Vermont auditor of accounts have both spent years working on economic policy in the state, but one is seeking his first elected office and the other wants to return to a post he held for eight years.

Doug Hoffer, of Burlington, said he had never considered running for elected office until earlier this year.

"I've been a background kind of guy," Hoffer said. "During the (legislative) session it became clear my long-standing interest in performance measurement was not being addressed by the administration."

State Sen. Ed Flanagan, also of Burlington, has held public office for much of the last two decades, including his 1992-2001 tenure as auditor.

"I'm going to make capital available and make the economic environment conducive to allowing entrepreneurs to work and bring the laid off workers and (underemployed) workers back to where they were before this horrible recession," Flanagan said.

Hoffer and Flanagan both say they plan to conduct positive campaigns to win the votes of the state's Democrats and their party's nomination in the Aug. 24 primary.

The winner will advance to the Nov. 2 general election and face incumbent Republican auditor Thomas Salmon, Progressive Michael Bayer and independent candidate Jerry Levy of Brattleboro, who lists himself as a socialist.

Casey Haggas, communications director for the Vermont Democratic Party, said the party isn't taking a position in the primary.

"This is an office that is crucial to generating revenue for the state. Tom Salmon is continuing to regurgitate the tired rhetoric of the Douglas-Dubie team," she said referring to Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie. "Doug Hoffer's experience as an independent policy analyst and Senator Flanagan's prior experience in the position of auditor make them both incredibly qualified and we look forward to a spirited road to the primary."

This year the job pays $90,376.

"For me, right now, it's not me against Ed. All I am asking of the voters is which of us two is better able to beat Tom Salmon," Hoffer said.

Hoffer, 59, first came to Vermont in 1988 when he worked for the city's Community and Economic Development Office. He said that since 1993 he has been a self-employed policy analyst.

From 1995-2000, he worked for Flanagan when Flanagan was auditor. "During Ed's tenure, he really did raise the bar that the job of the auditor is not just waste, fraud and abuse," Hoffer said.

Hoffer says he's the author of a number of economic studies used by Vermont policymakers, including the Vermont Job Gap Study, the first version of which was published in 1997. The study introduced the concept of how much people need to earn to live. He said it helped persuade the legislature to increase the state's minimum wage, which is now indexed to inflation.

Taxpayers, managers and policymakers need to know whether we're getting value for the money," said Hoffer, a lawyer.

"Ideally, (state government) managers would do performance reviews of their own programs. Unfortunately managers don't have the time."

Flanagan, 59, has long been active in the Democratic Party.

After his years as auditor, he ran unsuccessfully in 2000 for the U.S. Senate. He lost a race for treasurer in 2002, but won a seat in the state Senate from Chittenden County in 2004.

Flanagan suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2005 and nearly died. He has said the experience gave him better insight into the health care system.

His personal behavior since his accident has attracted attention. Last year, he was cleared of any wrongdoing following a police investigation into a complaint that he was seen touching himself in a sexually suggestive manner in the men's locker room of the Burlington YMCA.

He said the behavior was an aftereffect of his injury, which he now knows how to control.

"I had a doctor tell me I was in better shape than any other 59-year-old man. I have the body of a 40-year-old," Flanagan said. "If anything, the accident has improved me. Some have said I was too impetuous before."

Flanagan says he wants his old job so he can make Vermont laws work better.

"It has a lot to do with the implementation of what the general assembly has passed the last few years," Flanagan said.

Flanagan described Hoffer as a good friend.

"I'm going to keep it positive and talk about my positive agenda," Flanagan said of the primary campaign. "That's what I've done and people like it."

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