By Emily Wangen
After nearly eight years as an assistant attorney general, Rob Sand is running for state auditor. He joined the Attorney General’s Office in September 2010 and focused on prosecuting financial crimes.
Sand said the state auditor is supposed to act as the taxpayers’ watchdog and promote efficient government through ensuring audits of public entities are done and corruption is fully investigated — which, he believes, the outgoing auditor has not done well.
Sand is a native of Decorah and obtained a law degree from the University of Iowa after completing his undergraduate degree at Brown University.
He spoke with The Daily Iowan on March 8.
Why he’s wants to switch to state auditor
“Two things: Definitely one, my experience in looking at all of the public-corruption investigations, and two, it’s an opportunity to do something positive for the state, really build something that is good for all Iowans.
“I hit the point probably after five or six years in the Attorney General’s Office that I noticed it was starting to change the way I looked at the world.
“Only doing criminal prosecution is really dark. No matter how good of a job I do, everyone when it’s over wishes nothing had ever happened. And even if I’m able to get someone sent to prison for embezzling a bunch of taxpayer money, and that’s the right result that they should go, because they stole a large amount of it, it doesn’t make me happy if they have kids.
“I grew up in Decorah, and I had this experience when I was there, for my junior and senior year of high school I put hours, and hours, and hours into getting a public skatepark built in Decorah. And it was something that once we got it going, everyone realized it was good for the whole community, that everyone would win by doing that.
“I kind of look at this office, and I see an unbuilt skatepark, it’s just not being run that well right now, and it’s in every Iowan’s benefit to make it run better.”
How his campaign has been going
“I think we have exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, both for Democrats and Republicans. I don’t like that the best predictor of someone’s success is how much money they raise, but that’s a fact. So using that yardstick … just in the first seven weeks of the campaign broke a record for fundraising for the state auditor’s race.
“Just within the first month of the campaign had more contributors than [current State Auditor Mary Mosiman] in the entire 2014 election cycle, so it’s very grass-roots based.”
Sand’s first priorities if elected
“I think one of the things that the office very clearly needs is people on staff with law-enforcement backgrounds. The reason is they do all of Iowa’s public-corruption investigations.
“I’ve been heading those investigations for seven years, because they get handed to me, and I do the prosecution in the courtroom … I’ve prosecuted most of Iowa’s public corruption over the last decade.
“For years, I have been looking at these investigations and seeing mistakes that someone with a law-enforcement background would not have made. The current auditor has a very one-dimensional perspective, she only has CPAs [Certified Public Accountants] and accountants in the office. You certainly want to have some, but having no one with any other background is like having the other quarterbacks playing on offense at the same time; it’s just a really bad idea.”
“I really think the Auditor’s Office needs to start doing what it’s supposed to in terms of making efficiency recommendations. It’s supposed to be a partner for counties, a partner for cities, so instead of just coming in and looking at the books, they should be saying, ‘Hey, did you know that if you switch to doing waste collection this way, you can save a pile a pile of money?’
“You can’t expect the people who sit on City Council part-time who also have a full-time job, also usually have a family, can be experts in the best way to provide every basic government service. That’s what this office is supposed to do, and it doesn’t, and I’ll make it do it.”
“I’m very active on Twitter … we had a little while at the beginning of the campaign where I wasn’t doing all of the tweets myself, but I am now, and I think that the fact that I’m a human on Twitter as opposed to a sort of machine campaign makes it more interesting and more engaging.
“We’ve also been very active on Facebook, but also we’re here sitting down with The Daily Iowan, and we’ve sat down with the student newspaper at Iowa State (Iowa State Daily).
“I think the race is one that’s particularly interesting because I am a millennial … I’m part of the generation, and I think that a lot of young folks are excited about having someone who’s closer to our age getting into a statewide office in Iowa.”
Getting young people in public office
“I think there’s a very different perspective on life and on politics for people in our generation as opposed to our parents’ generation.
“They went through a time where they saw when they were growing up a period of incredible divisiveness … I think that our generation has much more of a problem-solving focus. I don’t think that young people are interested in just putting a label on somebody and saying, ‘You’re different from me so you don’t matter to me.’ I think young people are much more interested in figuring out what was the problem and how do we fix it.”
“I think it’s going to be a great turnout. I think Democrats are incredibly motivated, not just because what’s going on in Washington but also because of what’s happening in Des Moines.
“We are seeing the Iowa Legislature and Republicans in charge make a series of incredible investment cuts where they’re really damaging Iowa’s future because they’re not willing to invest in education, they’re not willing to invest in health care, they’re not even willing to invest in law enforcement.
“I think it’s atrocious, and we have someone in the state Auditor’s Office who also isn’t willing to call out her own party for the way that they’ve broken the budget.
“We had someone, a Republican state auditor, who used to do a good job at that, and his name was Dick Johnson [served 1979-2002], and in 1994, he almost cost someone in his own party, Terry Branstad, a gubernatorial primary because he called him out for cooking the books. Even though they’re both Republicans.
“We just went through quarterly cuts last year, and we just went through borrowing money to get through the end of the year from our set-aside accounts. The state auditor called that budget stable, and balanced, and responsible. And I think we need somebody who has the integrity to hold someone accountable no matter what their partisan affiliation is.
“And I’ve done that in the Attorney General’s Office, I’ve prosecuted Democrats, I’ve prosecuted Republicans. I’ve always been focused on truth and accountability, and I think that’s what we’re supposed to have in a taxpayer’s watchdog.
“So I think Democrats are very energized for races all across the ballot, including this one that even though it’s one that normally doesn’t get as much attention.”