It was about 20 years ago and the Office of the Legislative Auditor was getting attention for a series of tough investigative reports on questionable behavior by public officials and poor performance by state government, which back then was completely dominated by DFLers at the executive, legislative and judicial branches. I was a reporter for the Star Tribune and was impressed by the competence and toughness of the watchdog agency and its director, Jim Nobles. So I wrote a story about Nobles and conveyed the consensus at that time, held by both parties, that he was an inquisitor of unquestioned fairness and tenacity.
Fast forward to last week and Nobles was in the spotlight again for his agency's tough analysis of Republican Gov. Pawlenty's JOBZ program and the deteriorating state of the state's transportation system. Britt Robson of MinnPost put together a spot-on Q&A with Nobles, focusing on a question about whether the agency was anti-Pawlenty and whether "truth has a liberal bias.''
Nobles' response was a classic statement of the good-government principles that Minnesota has long prided itself on, and which need to be reinforced as we move toward more investments in education, transportation, health-care access and other progressive goals.
MP: So you don't subscribe to the idea that the truth has a liberal bias?
JN: [laughs] No. You know the only way in which that might be true is that I really believe in the important role government can play. But I also honestly believe that once an agency is given a responsibility, it has to be fulfilled in a very serious and cost effective way. I want to bring good value to government. That tends to make me say government is important, if for no other reason than it is extracting a lot of money from the citizens and needs to use it effectively. So I am not one of those who just throw up their hands at government altogether, say they are just a bunch of slugs wasting our money. I believe we can take money and do good things. But I believe you really have to work hard and set high standards. I would like all of government to work the way I manage this office, with great intensity.
Nobles has been the epitome of grown-up integrity and a force for good in Minnesota's public sector for 25 years. He and his office, which had a good reputation before he arrived in 1983, deserve a salute.