Legislators vote along gender lines to hire new auditor general

It was battle of the sexes at a joint legislative panel meeting Monday morning with a bipartisan, bicamaral group of female legislators supporting a woman as the state’s new auditor general and a like group of men supporting the male candidate.

It took a second vote — and Joint Legislative Committee Chairman Rep. Joseph Abruzzo announcing he was going to support Sherrill Norman — before a candidate could muster enough votes to be selected the next state auditor general.

The appointment must be confirmed by both the House and Senate, which Abruzzo said he anticipated happening before the end of the 2015 regular legislative session.

Three candidates appeared before the joint legislative panel on Monday: Norman, Kathryn Walker and Sam McCall. Walker received no votes while Norman and McCall were each supported by five lawmakers.

For a motion to pass a joint committee, there must be majority approval of the majority of members from both chambers. With a vote down gender lines none of the candidates could get a majority of both chamber’s support, let alone a clear majority.

“This is going to get very interesting,” Abruzzo said after the initial vote.

Legislators then told why they supported each candidate.

Promoting from within can send the right message, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said, explaining her support for Norman, who already works in the state auditor general’s office. “I think promoting from within sometimes has incredible value,” she said.

Sen. Wilton Simpson followed that he thought the broad experience McCall brought to the position was invaluable and that having experience on the other end of a state audit could be helpful. McCall has been the chief audit officer at FSU from April 2013 to present. Prior to that he was the Tallahassee’s city auditor from November 1999 to March 2013.

Florida’s Auditor General is charged with providing unbiased, timely, and relevant information that can be used by the Legislature, Florida’s residents, public entity management, and others to promote government accountability. The current auditor general, David Martin, retires effective June 30.

Before taking the second vote, Chairman Abruzzo announced that Norman had his support. With his announcement the other four men on the committee threw their support behind Norman as well.

Nevertheless, Abruzzo said he didn’t think gender played a role in the voting.

“I don’t believe it had anything to do with male or female,” Abruzzo said after the meeting. “I think it had to do with what members thought was the best candidate at the time.”

Abruzzo said all the finalists who appeared before the committee were capable and that the committee was “completely torn.”

“But it was a decision I felt I was justified in switching my vote.”

The appointment is effective July 1. The compensation rate, Abruzzo said, is commensurate with experience and is not set by the committee. The salary, though, cannot exceed that of the previous auditor general, Abruzzo said.

Reporter Bruce Ritchie contributed to this report.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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