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Battle of the sexes? Legislators vote along gender lines in bid to hire new state auditor general

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It was a battle of the sexes at a joint legislative panel meeting Monday morning with a bipartisan, bicameral 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 state Sen. Joseph Abruzzo announcing he was going to support Sherrill Norman — before a candidate could muster enough votes to be named 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 didn’t receive any votes and Norman and McCall were each supported by five lawmakers.

In order 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 explained why they supported each candidate.

Promoting from within can send the right message, state 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 City of Tallahassee 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 citizens, public entity management, and other stakeholders to promote government accountability. The current auditor general, David Martin, is retiring effective June 30.

Before taking the second vote Chairman Abruzzo announced that he was going to support Norman. With his announcement the other four male members on the committee threw their support behind Norman, also.

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

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