The election for Pennsylvania’s next auditor general will be historic regardless of the outcome.

Democrat Nina Ahmad, an immigrant from Bangladesh, or Republican Timothy DeFoor, who is African American, will become the first person of color to hold a state row office.

Editors with CNHI’s Pennsylvania newspapers interviewed both candidates. In a close call, we recommend Ahmad for election.

We agree with her pledges to continue growing the reach and impact of the office, to build on the work of outgoing Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, and to employ a “67-county approach” in addressing concerns across the state, such as providing statistical support for expanding access to broadband internet service in rural areas.

The auditor general is the state’s top fiscal watchdog, charged with ensuring that state tax dollars are spent legally and within the framework of the projects and services being funded.

The office is responsible for financial audits on state government spending, and performance audits to determine if money is spent properly and effectively, the office’s website shows.

Ahmad said she would bring an “expansion of vision,” building on her experiences as an immigrant from Bangladesh and her background as a molecular biologist to target key issues. Ahmad said the auditor’s general’s office under her would embrace facts and data over fear and division.

“When you have objective information and put it to good use, everybody benefits,” she said, adding that the auditor general’s office should track analytics in areas such as Medicaid dollars vs. hospital outcomes, and women’s health, including maternal mortality during childbirth for Black women.

“Every data point is someone’s story,” Ahmad said.

Both Ahmad and DeFoor said they would conduct audits into how federal CARES Act dollars for COVID-19 relief were distributed by the state.

DeFoor said he would explore whether COVID-19 dollars were shared fairly with women-owned and minority-owned businesses.

“Are those funds going to the places they’re supposed to?” DeFoor asked.

Ahmad said she would extend CARES Act reporting to include a “pandemic preparedness audit” to show where the state has performed well and where improvement is needed ahead of future health issues.

She pledged to host standing meetings in different areas of the state, and open regional offices, to get “feedback from all counties.”

Broadband service came to the forefront, Ahmad said, as the pandemic sent students home to learn remotely and amplified the value of telemedicine programs. She supports giving local municipalities more control over the establishment of broadband networks.

DeFoor, Dauphin County’s controller since 2015, has worked as a special investigator with the state Office of Inspector General, the state Office of Attorney General and UPMC Health plan, probing issues ranging from contractor and Medicaid fraud to the illegal diversion of prescription drugs, his website shows.

He pointed to his family’s background in blue-collar jobs and his own career path as making him “the most qualified candidate.”

Both contenders noted that the auditor general is a nonpartisan official despite holding an elected office. Both said they would bring accountability to the current administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and whoever wins the election for governor in 2022.

We like both DeFoor and Ahmad for their experience, intellect and energy.

Ahmad’s stated commitment to rural Pennsylvania and her promise to address a diversity of issues through data generation to make Pennsylvania government stronger earned our support.

This editorial was developed from collaborative candidate interviews by editors at CNHI’s Pennsylvania newspapers. It was written by Chip Minemyer, editor of The Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown.

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