JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — It’s a good bet Missouri’s next state auditor will be a woman from western Missouri, a mother in her 40s who is a certified public account and a county auditor, married to an attorney for more than 20 years. And her first name will start with “S.”
How can one be so sure?
Meet Democrat Susan Montee and Republican Sandra Thomas, rival state auditor candidates with remarkably similar resumes. Barring an upset by the Libertarian or Progressive party candidates, one of them will win the Nov. 7 election.
Montee and Thomas are well aware of their similar circumstances. It may have been one of the things that helped Thomas prevail in a five-way Republican primary in which the other candidates lacked the accounting and auditor titles to match up against Montee.
Because of their similarities, Thomas and Montee are digging deep to try to distinguish themselves. Montee has highlighted a bookkeeping discrepancy attributed partly to Thomas by an outside auditor. Thomas has taken issue with Montee’s cash basis of accounting.
Those aren’t typically the type of issues that fire up voters — or that voters even know much about. So both Montee and Thomas have invested some of their own money in their campaigns to help get out their messages.
Thomas notes she has served longer as an auditor than Montee, won lots of job awards and led Missouri’s county auditor association. Montee notes she has a greater breadth of experience than Thomas, working in more private sector accounting jobs, as an attorney and helping her husband run a computer supply store.
Montee, 47, of St. Joseph, has served as Buchanan County auditor since 2001. She won her first campaign, for the St. Joseph City Council, in 1998 after failing to get appointed as the replacement for the council’s only female member, who had resigned.
While a council member, Montee also served on the county’s Democratic committee, which submitted replacement nominees to the governor when the county auditor died. It was then that Montee realized the county wasn’t computerized — people were still writing checks by hand and typing requisitions. So she ran against the appointed replacement auditor in the next Democratic primary, unseated him, was elected auditor and began modernizing the office.
“Everybody was very appreciative of moving into computerization,” Montee said. “It really has made a lot of difference for how we operate the government.”
Thomas, 40, of Kansas City, said her interest in the Platte County auditor’s office was sparked when she attended a forum for county officeholders and the auditor was the only one absent. It was then, Thomas said, that she realized the incumbent wasn’t an accountant. She touted her own accountant credentials while defeating him in the 1994 election, updated the county’s accounting techniques and was re-elected twice.
“When I took office in Platte County, we did not comply with generally accepted accounting principles,” Thomas said. “I think it did resonate with the voters.”
Born in Audubon, Iowa, Sandra Stonebraker moved multiple times as her family followed her father’s farming jobs to Minnesota and finally to Missouri. They eventually moved to Smithville, where Thomas met her husband-to-be in high school. She married James Thomas at age 19, right before her junior year at William Jewell College, where she got her accounting degree. While working at Bartlett Grain Co., she got a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1991.
Susan Humphrey was born in St. Joseph, where her mother was living with her paternal grandparents while her father was deployed overseas with the Marines. In February 1966, when she was 6, Galen Humphrey was serving as the navigator on a refueling jet that disappeared over water near Vietnam. Her father remains missing in action, though she said she realized in high school — as the Vietnam War ended — that he had likely died.
A graduate of Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph, Susan Humphrey met James Montee while they were rival college debaters. She graduated with her accounting degree from Drury College in Springfield, got married and worked in Tulsa, Okla., and Kansas City before they settled in St. Joseph. She got a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2000.
In the November election, Montee and Thomas also will face Libertarian Party candidate Charles Baum, of University City, and Progressive Party candidate Terry Bunker, of Kansas City. Both Baum and Bunker have suggested that a minor party candidate, such as themselves, would be better able to remain independent from political influence as auditor.
Baum, 59, of University City, is a financial planner and principal at Renaissance Financial in St. Louis. But he started out some time ago as a junior high math teacher. He has a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master’s degree in teaching from Webster University.
Bunker, 46, of Kansas City, lost his left arm and right leg at age 23 from electrical shock while working for a utility company in northern Missouri. But he turned tragedy into a new career opportunity, getting an accounting degree from Park College. He now works at the investment firm State Street Corp. He said he got involved in the Progressive Party because he participates in twice weekly anti-war protests in Kansas City.