West Virginia Watchdogs: Hunt, Hanna on the Campaign Trail for State Auditor (2024)

West Virginia Watchdogs: Hunt, Hanna on the Campaign Trail for State Auditor (1)

photo by: W.Va. Legislative Photography

West Virginia Sen. Mark Hunt, R-Kanawha (left), and Caleb Hanna

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final part in a two-part series on Republican candidates for state auditor in West Virginia. Listen to the full interviews on the Mountain State Views podcast, available on most major podcast platforms.)

CHARLESTON – In a four-person race to win the Republican nomination for state auditor in West Virginia, State Sen. Mark Hunt and former lawmaker Caleb Hanna are working to make their case to voters why they are the right candidates to succeed State Auditor J.B. McCuskey.

McCuskey is finishing up his second and final four-year term as the first elected Republican state auditor since the Great Depression. First having announced for governor in February 2023, McCuskey decided to run for attorney general that summer to succeed Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is also running for governor.

Not long after McCuskey’s announced intention to run for another higher office in 2023, Hanna – then a Republican member of the House of Delegates representing Nicholas County – held a press conference announcing his campaign for state auditor.

The 24-year-old Hanna is the director of public relations for Summersville Regional Medical Center and Braxton County Memorial Hospital, both part of the West Virginia University Health System (WVU Medicine). Hanna was elected to the House of Delegates in 2018, representing a district consisting of parts of Nicholas, Webster, and Greenbrier counties.

At the time of taking office in 2019, Hanna was one of the youngest African Americans to be elected to a state legislature. He resigned from the House at the end of 2023 after moving out of his district to Kanawha County.

During his time in the Legislature serving on several committees that interact with the State Auditor’s Office, Hanna said he became interested in the office.

“I’ve seen the ins and outs of how government works, but always just saw how undervalued the auditor’s office was treated,” Hanna said. “A lot of people just don’t look at it and realize what it does and what capabilities it has. And I said I want to make sure that I’m able to go in there and change that.

“I’m running because I want to fight for West Virginia and make it a place where I can live and raise a family and grow up,” Hanna continued. “I’ve got a pretty diverse portfolio that I think qualifies me for this office and I’m kind of excited to translate, translate that over.”

Hunt was a late entrant into the state auditor’s race, filing the day before the January candidate filing period ended. Hunt is in his first four-year term as a Republican state senator representing Kanawha, Roane, and Clay counties along with parts of Putnam and Jackson counties.

Hunt, an attorney in Charleston, was previously a Democratic member of the House of Delegates serving several terms between 1995 and 2014. He has also been an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Hunt said his first job out of law school was working for the State Auditor’s Office.

“I worked for Glen Gainer about a year before I went on to do other things in private practice,” Hunt said. “I understand the office, and the auditor is primarily an administrator. He is not really an auditor. He administers the office and he hires auditors. I have a master’s degree in public administration in addition to a law degree, so I think the knowledge of the office as well as my educational background would help me be able to be a good auditor.”

Hanna is proud of the work that has been done by the State Auditor’s Office on West Virginia Checkbook, the office’s transparency portal allowing the public to view the spending of tax dollars by state agencies and some cities and counties. But Hanna wants to work to make wvcheckbook.gov more user friendly and also ensure that information being uploaded by local governments is accurate.

“Everybody loves Checkbook. Everybody knows about it,” Hanna said. “The problem is though – and that I’ve heard from counties just going across the state – is that there’s actually no auditing mechanism to Checkbook itself. So even though the municipalities and the counties are putting their numbers into Checkbook … there’s no audit system for what they’re putting in. We audit their books, but we don’t audit what they put in Checkbook. So, what they’re showing to you and what they’re showing to the state could ultimately be two different things and nobody really knows.”

Hanna would also like to see a West Virginia Checkbook phone app for easy access to state and local spending. He also wants to make the entire fleet of state-owned vehicles available for search on Checkbook by license plate number.

“I think it’d be so nice if someone saw a vehicle with a state plate, they could enter that state plate number onto West Virginia Checkbook and would pull up what agency it’s registered to, what its primary purpose is, and what purchasing contract it was ordered under,” Hanna said. “I think a lot of times these vehicles we order are very, very unnecessary.”

A little-known function of the State Auditor’s Office is acting as the state version of the Securities and Exchange Commission, regulating securities, commodities, and time-shares. Hunt said more attention needs to be paid to the state’s regulation of these services.

“One of the things I think the auditor could do is make more of an impact as far as being commissioner of securities,” Hunt said. “I know that when I worked in the auditor’s office, we only did a very cursory review of security offerings in West Virginia. Perhaps we can enhance what we’re doing. There’s a big movement in the Legislature now about our seniors who are frankly getting ripped off with security offerings. That may be something that we can enhance and develop to have a little stronger commitment to our seniors as far as looking at the securities that are being offered in West Virginia.”

Both Hanna and Hunt believe that monitoring the millions of dollars county and city governments are beginning to receive from the nearly $1 billion opioid settlement is important, but they see the state auditor’s role as an advisory role to local governments.

“I don’t think we want to dictate what the counties should do with the money,” Hanna said. “We want to show them the ropes of what they can do, what they cannot do, and then let them go accordingly.”

“I think the information should be transparent and people should know,” Hunt said. “As long as people know that something’s going in the right direction, and maybe the auditor gives those individuals some guidance, that’s going to be helpful. But once again, we’d have to look at the legislation to see exactly what the powers would be as far as what the auditor could do.”

The State Auditor’s Office has become more involved in recent years with dilapidated properties around West Virginia. Those wishing to participate in tax sales and auctions must register with the State Auditor’s Office. A bill passed over the last few years has helped speed up tax sales, allowing county and local governments to buy properties not sold during tax sales; also provide state funding to cover the cost of tearing down dilapidated properties.

Hanna wants to continue these reforms to further eliminate dilapidated properties and open those properties up for economic development and affordable housing, especially for teachers and workers moving to the state for major manufacturing projects. He also wants to offer properties to landowners with nearby parcels.

“We want to use this for economic development and things like that,” Hanna said. “But first thing is instead of just selling it off, if it’s a parcel under 10 acres, we want to offer it to conjoining property owners. So, if you own a piece of property that butts up against that, we’re going to offer it to you at fair market value and give you the opportunity to purchase that piece of land that’s connected to yours.”

Hunt said he is concerned about the efforts by the Legislature to speed up land sales without giving the current property owners as much time to pay their delinquent taxes.

“I don’t think I’m in favor of that,” Hunt said. “To basically sell someone’s lands for taxes is the last recourse to get it back onto the county records and into the payroll as far as collecting taxes. But I don’t think I’m in favor of shortening the time to sell the property. I think we need to give people every opportunity possible to redeem and keep their property, but at some point, the property has to go back on the tax roll.”

Hanna and Hunt are facing House Majority Leader Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, and Jefferson County Commissioner Tricia Jackson. The winner will face two-time failed Democratic state auditor candidate Mary Ann Claytor.

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West Virginia Watchdogs: Hunt, Hanna on the Campaign Trail for State Auditor (2024)
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