​History of the State Controller

Seeking fair and feasible governance, the gold miners residing east of the Cascade Mountains in the Washington Territory pressed for their own territorial government during the mid 1800s. Yielding to their influence, President Abraham Lincoln approved the formation of the Idaho Territory on March 4, 1863. The territorial government was first seated in Lewiston, and then moved to Boise. Over the next seven years, nine territorial auditors monitored the territories finances and served as ex-officio territorial librarians. 

One territorial auditor, Joseph Perrault (1875-1877), went from assistant editor of the Idaho Statesman to the auditor’s seat and later opened a “large” harness and saddle manufacturing business in Boise and Weiser City. During his service, the new territorial government operated on less than $10,000 per year. Austerity shown in more than the budget: territorial auditor James Onderdonk (1881-1883), who graduated with a law degree from Columbia at age 18, served simultaneously as territorial auditor, superintendent of public instruction and city attorney for Boise City. Perhaps the territorial auditor’s salary of only $375.00 per year inspired his ambitions.

Upon admission into the union in 1890, the newly ratified Idaho Constitution created a statewide elected office, “state auditor,” bearing the same duties as the territorial auditor. Silas Moody served both as an appointed auditor in the territorial government (1885) and as Idaho’s first elected state auditor (1891-1893). 

The “Panic of ‘93” shook Idaho with collapsed lead and silver prices but the Idaho Legislature rallied the economy by funding state wagon roads to connect north and south Idaho. Idaho’s second auditor, Frank Ramsey (1893-1897) served during these boom and bust days. Ramsey was a newspaper publisher before coming to office and left to become U.S. President McKinley’s appointee as U.S. Marshall for Idaho. Next, James H. Anderson (1897-1899), a stock grower, took office as a Democrat but became a Populist as he helped lead the national organization of that party.

Much has been written about Idaho’s fourth state auditor, Bartlett Sinclair (1899-1901). He was a very distinguished attorney and law partner with Senator William E. Borah. He served as treasurer of the Province of Luzon in the Philippines through appointment of President Taft and was Governor Steunenberg’s personal representative to the 1905 North Idaho Mine riots. That year $350,000 was appropriated for construction of a new capitol building in Boise (the central section and dome) and civil unrest culminated in the assassination of Governor Steunenberg on December 30th.

Better known as “Wagon Wheel Jones” for his stoic efforts in legislature to get money to build wagon roads, Egbert W. Jones (1901-1903) recorded the state’s total indebtedness at $1.55 at the close of his term, a fifty-five cent increase from the preceding year! Another former legislator, Theo Turner (1903-1905) was remembered more for his non-auditors accomplishments at the Southern Branch of the University of Idaho (now Idaho State University) where an on-campus dormitory built in 1965 was named after him.

For many years the state auditor’s report included livestock counts: the total number of cattle, yearlings, sheep, mules, milk cows, horses, goats and jackasses in each county. During Robert S. Braqaw’s term (1905-1909) for example, Ada County reported two jackasses while Canyon County reported nine, a genuine historical recording. His reports also logged $6,277.74 donated by Idaho citizens to build a wagon road at Thunder Mountain and an annual budget just shy of $1.5 million with a debt of just over $1.0 million. 

It took S.D. Taylor (1909-1913), the legislature and state government two years to substantially decrease the state’s indebtedness. Unfortunately, the national economic recession coupled with the $1.3 million indebtedness incurred to contract completion of the state capitol (1912) deepened the state’s red ink. That same year, the state auditor was added to the State Board of Land Commissioners. Auditor Taylor became the first state auditor to serve on the board.

To monitor state spending better, State Auditor Fred L. Huston (1913-1917) recommended to the legislature that authority be established for a uniform system of accounting, and once established that the “administration of it be left to the State Auditor’s Office.” Following this lead, Clarence Van Deusen (1917-1919), a nationally recognized expert in “good accounting,” implemented “modern bookkeeping methods” in state accounting and record keeping. According to Van Deusen, “there is no politics in good accounting.” The Legislature also overhauled state government by consolidating the fifty-one departments, boards and bureaus under nine administrative departments responsible to the governor.

Serving longer than any predecessors, Edward Gallet (1919-1933) served for seven two-year terms during which the state capitol was completed (1920), a state budget system was instituted (1922), and a state income tax was adopted (1931). He is most remembered for his efforts to authorize a Teacher’s Retirement Fund (1921) which accumulated only $24.04 for the first three years: an oversight of the legislature who failed to enforce contributions. 

During Harry C. Parsons term as state auditor (1933-1939), U.S. Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, which marshaled more grazing lease issues before the Land Board. The state legislature revoked the statewide prohibition on liquor sales and established the State Liquor Dispensary systems. Also the legislature enacted a two percent sales tax, but the voters rejected the referendum in 1936.

Calvin E. Wright (1939-1945) served through a constitutional battle over the powers of the state auditor and trying to offset the loss of nearly half of the auditor’s staff to military service in World War II. The 1939 Idaho Legislature passed a law creating a position of comptroller to be appointed by the governor and defining duties normally vested in the State Auditor’s Office. Auditor Wright filed suit. The court ruled in Wright v. Callahan (61 Idaho 167-183; 1940) that the “…entire statute creating office of state comptroller (was) void for unconstitutionality of part, the essential purpose of which (was) to divest the state auditor of his constitutional powers and duties….” These constitutional powers remain intact today!

During the next term of office, Ernest G. Hansen (1945-1947) initiated work on a new state accounting system. In 1946 the legislature modified the term of office for the governor and other elected state officials to serve four-year terms.

N.P. Nielson (1947-4/1957) served slightly over ten years before he died in office. The governor appointed replacement, Rulon Swenson(6/1957-1959), a ten-year veteran of the State Auditor’s Office. Auditor Swenson also served Idaho as state treasurer (1959-1963) filling the unexpired term of Treasurer Ruth G. Moon who also passed away while in office. In total Rulon Swenson completed a commendable 34 years of state service before he retired.

Tenure was granted at the ballot box repeatedly for the next auditor, Joe R. Williams (1959-1989). Serving longer than any other state auditor in Idaho’s history, Joe R. Williams heralded several major changes in the auditor’s office and watched significant events pass during his term. Promptly after his first election, he introduced the state to automated data processing of the state’s fiscal accounts and before retiring he began the initial development of a new accounting and payroll system. 

In 1983 Joe R. Williams challenged the Idaho State Legislature over the post-audit duties of the state auditor. He filed for and received a permanent injunction against the Legislature, which had appropriated funds to the Legislative Auditor’s Office to conduct post-audits instead of the auditor’s office. The permanent injunction in effect placed authority for post-audits in the hands of the state auditor and forbid the legislature from usurping the power of a constitutionally created executive agency through a line-item appropriation. Joe R. Williams resigned February 1989 and the governor appointed his successor J.D. Williams.

J.D. Williams (1989-2002) brought both public administration and a law degree to bear on the many responsibilities of the office. Under previous laws, the state auditor was responsible for paying all of the state's bills and auditing his own books. New requirements from the federal General Accounting Office made the auditing practice unacceptable for any state receiving federal dollars. State Auditor J.D. Williams recognized and helped resolve this long-standing jurisdictional dispute between his office and the Idaho Legislature relating to the post-audit function. In 1994 Idaho citizens adopted an amendment to the Idaho Constitution changing some duties of the state auditor and renaming the office as “State Controller.” J.D. Williams has complemented this amendment by bringing the state into compliance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), leading state government into the information technology age with Internet communication and on-line applications for more efficient management of financial accounts, personnel and payroll transactions, and other financial reports for state agencies and boards. 

Keith L. Johnson (2002-2006) Prior to becoming Idaho State Controller, he served as the state comptroller in Oklahoma, serving in the administration of Republican Governor Frank Keating. During the late 1980s, Keith worked on the bailout of the savings and loan industry and assisted in the bankruptcy workout of Orange County California. Keith is a certified public accountant, a graduate of Boise State University and also has a juris doctorate from the University of Denver.

Donna M. Jones (2006-2012) Idaho’s 20th State Controller and Payette native, Donna M.Jones, rose to political prominence with her appointment to Idaho House District 13 in 1987. Jones served 12 distinguished years in the House which culminated in her being the first woman selected to chair the powerful House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Before entering politics Donna was a successful business person for 30 years, owning and operating auto parts stores and a real estate brokerage firm. She also served eight years as Executive Director of the Idaho Real Estate Commission. 

In addition to being a female trailblazer in legislative politics, Jones is the first woman elected to serve as Idaho State Controller. Ms. Jones retired from public office on October 15, 2012, after serving nearly two years of her second term, to focus exclusively on recovering from injuries sustained in an automobile accident in May of 2012.

Brandon D Woolf (2012-Present) Starting at the State Controller’s Office in 1997 as an intern, Brandon D Woolf rose through the agency’s ranks serving as a training specialist in the office’s Division of Statewide Payroll, bureau chief, division administrator over Statewide Payroll, deputy chief of staff, and chief of staff. After Donna Jones’ retirement in October of 2012, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter tapped Mr. Woolf to serve out the remainder of Ms. Jones’ term, appointing him as Idaho’s 21st State Controller on October 15, 2012.  He was subsequently elected by the people of Idaho to a full term of office in 2014, and again in 2019.

Mr. Woolf graduated from Utah State University in 1997 after earning a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Dutch. In 2006, while working full time at the State Controller’s Office, he earned a Master of Business Administration from Boise State University. He and his wife Janalee, who is from Preston, Idaho, married in 1994 and have three children: Brittney, Justin, and Bailey. Mr. Woolf and his family are actively involved in their church and its youth groups. He’s also an avid runner and speaks, reads and writes Dutch fluently.


Idaho Territorial Government 1863-1890
Auditors and ControllersAppointed
John M. Bacon7/23/1863
Benjamin F. Lamkin9/23/1863, reappointed 2/6/1864, 12/23/1864
Horace B. Lane1/27/1867
William R. Bishop5/14/1867
Daniel Cram1/1/1868, reappointed 1/16/1869, 1/16/1871, 1/7/1873
Joseph Perrault1/15/1875, reappointed 1/15/1877
James L. Onderdonk2/14/1881, reappointed 2/14/1883
Silas W. Moody2/7/1885
J.H. Wickersham2/11/1887, reappointed 2/8/1889

Idaho State Government 1890-Present
Auditors and ControllersTerm of Office
Silas W. Moody (R)1/5/1891 to 1/2/1893
Frank C. Ramsey (R)1/2/1893 to 1/7/1897
J.H. Anderson (P-D)1/7/1897 to 1/2/1899
Bartlett Sinclair1/7/1899 to 1/7/1901
E.W. Jones (P-D-S.R.)1/7/1901 to 1/5/1903
Theo Turner (R)1/5/1903 to 1/3/1905
Robert S. Bragaw1/2/1905 to 1/4/1909
S.D. Taylor (R)1/4/1909 to 1/6/1913
Fred L. Huston (R)1/6/1913 to 1/1/1917
Clarence Van Deusen (D)1/1/1917 to 1/6/1919
Edward G. Gallett (R)1/6/1919 to 1/2/1933
Harry C. Parsons (D)1/2/1933 to 1/2/1939
Calvin E. Wright (D)1/2/1939 to 1/1/1945
Ernest G. Hansen (D)1/1/1945 to 1/6/1947
N.P. Nielson (R)1/6/1947 to 4/30/1957 (died in office)
Rulon Swensen (R)6/18/1957 to 1/5/1959 (appointed to fill vacancy)
Joe R. Williams (D)1/5/1959 to 2/28/1989 (resigned)
J.D. Williams (D)3/1/1989 to 09/30/2002 (appointed to fill vacancy then elected)
Keith Johnson (R)10/1/2002 to 1/1/2007 (appointed to fill vacancy then elected)
Donna M. Jones (R)1/2/2007 to 10/15/2012 (retired)
Brandon D Woolf (R)10/15/2012 to present (appointed to fill vacancy then elected)