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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | VENTURA COUNTY LIFE

Nader Gets My Vote for Auditor-Controller

November 26, 2000|Steve Chawkins

For too long, we've been sitting on the edge of our chairs, wondering how long it would take for a dismal situation to explode into a full-fledged crisis. Meanwhile, we've endured the charges and countercharges, the corrosive uncertainty, the unrelenting bile, the growing fears about the system itself.

Now, at last, the choice is clear. Our long civic nightmare finally is over. The business of life can resume. Stars will shine, dolphins will leap, and Ralph Nader will become the next Ventura County auditor-controller.

I know that might feel like a bit of a comedown for him.

When you set your sights on being Leader of the Free World, becoming Ventura County Controller-Auditor could strike you as a consolation prize.

But I also know that the job of auditor-controller fits Nader like green on broccoli. It would be good for Ventura County and it would be good for Ralph Nader; if he wants to run for president again, it would help to claim experience in the nitty-gritty of local government, and the auditor-controller's post is nothing if not nit and grit.

This is not a done deal. Nader has not actually been considered for auditor-controller. County officials no doubt will choose a more conventional candidate to replace the retiring Tom Mahon; to expect them to do otherwise is to expect a chad to undimple itself.

But if we can strap on our seat belts--by the way, we can thank Nader for seat belts--let us take a brief, safe trip out of the box.

First, a primer on auditor-controller.

An auditor-controller is a person whose job is to keep track of the county's finances. He or she must tighten the county's belt, loosen its reserves, boost its credit rating, hug its bottom line, fiddle with its computers, shuffle its budgets and lunch with its consultants. He must make sure that the totals in column A do not exceed those in column B but are distant cousins of those in column C, and other technical chores.

Can Nader handle it?

Of course! Nader eats corporate balance sheets for breakfast. He's no CPA, but he graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law and probably has picked up a few neat accounting tricks in his tenure as America's most prominent nay-sayer.

Because an auditor-controller watches over other people's money, he should be thrifty by nature. He should be the wizened, tight-fisted compulsive you want running the company you invest in, but not the one you work for. An auditor-controller's Christmas party should feature nothing more than de-fatted broth and, because it's the holiday season, Ritz crackers. If you're the father of the bride, you might want your auditor-controller to plan the wedding; if you're the bride, you wouldn't even want him to order the rice.

Again, Nader fits the bill perfectly! His presidential campaign cost a threadbare $8 million, as compared with his rivals' $250 million. He gets by without a car. He reportedly is worth about $4 million but says he lives comfortably on $25,000 a year, making him a marvelous role model for his bosses, Ventura County's supervisors.

Mahon, a county employee for three decades, has been criticized for being an all-too-agreeable part of the establishment he is supposed to fearlessly scrutinize. He says he is leaving to care for his ailing wife, but his critics view his midterm retirement as a ploy to give his job to a longtime assistant, Christine Cohen.

Nader, on the other hand, is a professional outsider--so much so that he doesn't even belong to the Green Party, on whose ticket he ran. And while his unwillingness to compromise would sink him as president, it would serve him well as auditor-controller: "You racked up 17 miles to drive from Ventura to Oxnard? Think again . . ."

Nader doesn't need glitzy night-life, like so many other celebrities.

Asked by Jay Leno what he does for fun, he said, "I eat strawberries."

Who could be more suited for Ventura County?

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Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at steve.chawkins@latimes.com.

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