Minnesota government watchdog gets another six-year term

Legislative Auditor James Nobles and Legal Counsel Elizabeth Stawicki
Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Nobles and Legal Counsel Elizabeth Stawicki testify before a Minnesota Senate committee in St. Paul on March 13, 2019.
Matt Sepic | MPR News file

A Minnesota government watchdog had his tenure extended Friday by the Legislature.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles won another six-year term after a bipartisan voice vote from a House-Senate commission that oversees his office. There was at least one dissenting vote.

Nobles’ office routinely examines whether state money is being properly spent and conducts reviews when things go wrong.

“Yes, I become a passionate advocate for accountability,” Nobles said before the vote. “And when I see state government failing to deliver on MNsure, on MNLARS, on many of the things that we’ve put millions of dollars into and they don’t serve the public well, I say so.”

State Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, opposed his reappointment. She said Nobles appears in the media too often, and his reports go beyond factual presentations into subjective assertions.

“I personally have lost confidence in Mr. Nobles’ ability to serve in this office at the level that the citizens of Minnesota need and deserve,” Liebling said.

Nobles, who has been in the nonpartisan position since 1983, said he will defer more often to aides and let the reports speak for themselves.

“The media does come to me and asks for my opinions. I often get quoted,” Nobles said. “I will promise you, given the concern, I will lower my profile.”

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said his reports attract needed attention to issues that deserve public scrutiny. Kiffmeyer said Nobles and his team treat their audit subjects fairly and with the utmost professionalism.

“Because we don’t sometimes like the message, we don’t go after the messenger,” she said.

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