JACKSON — Stacey Pickering says he’s as aggressive a state auditor as Mississippi has ever had.
His challenger in Tuesday’s Republican primary, Mary Hawkins Butler, says that’s not enough.
Pickering is touting his record as he seeks a third term in the office that oversees the finances of state and local government.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Democrat Joce Pritchett of Jackson and Reform Party member LaJena Walley of Hattiesburg in the November general election.
The race between Butler and Pickering has grown heated.
Butler, the nine-term mayor of Madison, accuses Pickering of using his campaign account as a “slush fund” to pay tens of thousands of dollars in living expenses, including travel, vehicles and a garage door.
Pickering said he hasn’t tried to hide anything, that lawyers have approved all his actions, and said he has broken no state or federal laws.
Though a former campaign worker has said she was interviewed by the FBI about Pickering’s campaign spending, the incumbent said his cooperation with the FBI remains strong.
“We’re still very aggressively working together hand-in-hand,” he said.
Butler also accuses Pickering of failing to aggressively tackle corruption, saying as auditor she would not “pick and choose” who is investigated, and would guarantee that every state agency is audited every year.
“It’s at the top,” Butler said. “The auditor decides where you go.”
Pickering said he stands by his record of recovering $24 million of misspent public money since he took office in early 2008. He also said there was little fraud in the spending of state and federal money for Hurricane Katrina recovery. He said his office has built a reputation that it will pay attention to people who see problems.
“They know when they come to us we won’t sweep things under the rug,” he said.
Pickering said his office has helped bring down figures in high profile cases including Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, Department of Marine Resources Director Bill Walker and Higher Education Commissioner Tom Meredith and Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps.
“I don’t consider Chris Epps a little fish,” he said.
Butler says Pickering’s office was not a leader on the Epps scandal, even though a 2011 legislative report questioned Epps’ award of the prison commissary contract to Cecil McCrory of Brandon. Both Epps and McCrory have pleaded guilty to bribery charges.
She also criticizes him for not catching problems with funding at Singing River Health System in Jackson County that led to hospital officials attempting to cut pensions. Butler also said she never would have disobeyed a judge on turning over Department of Marine Resources’ records to a newspaper. A Harrison County judge found Pickering in contempt last year for not giving such records to the Sun Herald.
Pickering said he’s heard grumbling that other people should have been prosecuted in some cases, but said his office sought charges against everyone it could.
“If there had been proof, we would have turned it over to prosecutors,” Pickering said of others.
He contrasted that to Butler’s criticism of the Madison County Board of Supervisors and county contractors, with whom she has continued to tangle while running for auditor.
“I’ve watched clip after clip on TV and they ask ‘Do you have proof?’ and she says ‘No,'” Pickering said.
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