Watkins for state auditor, with a request from us

We recommend voters put James Watkins in the state auditor's office. But whoever wins needs to hold himself to a higher level of integrity than we've seen since the primary.

Watkins won every county in the primary election, and since August, this race has digressed, largely at his hand.

Allegations about Watkins' opponent include fraud, theft, burglary and tax evasion. Interestingly enough, these charges all surfaced after the primary and were researched and released by the Watkins' campaign.

If you're interested in the dirty details, Watkins has started a webpage at factchecktroykelley.com. We'll only give the briefest details here.

For the record, Kelley denies the allegations, which stem from legal disputes between Kelley and business associates, including a client claiming to be owed money and an employer who said Kelley came back to the office to steal a painting after being dismissed.

There's no evidence showing Kelley ever faced criminal charges or other punishment as a result of accusations.

The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board met with both candidates on Sept. 4 -- prior to the Watkins' public attack on his opponent.

After spending an hour interviewing both men, this board decided to recommend Watkins for the job. So the allegations against Kelley didn't play into our decision.

We had decided to recommend Watkins based mainly on his past experience in the private sector, the 150 performance audits he has under his belt and his goals for the office.

We thought he would do a good job as the watchdog for the state.

The office of auditor is about fact checking, double checking and, to borrow a hockey term, full-body checking. But even in hockey, there are standards about checking appropriately.

The digging-up-dirt-on-his-opponent thing leaves us wanting to send Watkins to the penalty box.

While Watkins says he wants a clean election, he's the one throwing the mud.

Integrity is important in the office of the auditor. We expect that Watkins will win -- and that he would have without getting dirt on his hands.

At least he raised the allegations himself and didn't arrange to have them leaked through a surrogate. It's a plus that he's willing to stand behind the charges.

We remain concerned by the tactic, however.

We hope that once he's in office, he will restore the faith we had in him when we chatted Sept. 4.

The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board recommend James Watkins for Washington State Auditor.