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Resign-to-run law must be working – nobody seems to break it

Few complaints seem as regular – and fruitless – than those hurled at Arizona elected officeholders alleged to have violated the state’s resign-to-run law aimed at keeping officials occupied with the job they have and not the job they want.

Created through a 1980 ballot referendum and supported through various statute changes since then, resign-to-run laws in Arizona are intended to limit lawmakers’ bids for other elected positions until they are in the last year of their terms.

The intent behind the almost 30-year-old referendum is clear. The Legislature’s argument in the 1980 Secretary of State’s Publicity Pamphlet details a desire to keep elected officials concerned with their present office and to maintain the expectations placed upon them by the electorate.

“Serious and efficient administration of the public business cannot be accomplished by ambitious stepping-stone candidates whose chief motivation is to further their own careers,” according to the pamphlet.

Subsequent clarifying 1994 legislation of the successful ballot measure states an official breaks the law if he or she files a “nomination paper” or delivers a “formal public declaration of candidacy” before entering the final year of their current term in office.

But the illumination is still somewhat vague and candidates have since relied on a legal opinion drafted in 1993 by then-Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods and a 2001 advisory memorandum released by then-Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley.

Woods, in 1993, instructed then-Secretary of State Richard Mahoney, that officeholders would not run into legal problems if they limit their quest for another office to forming only an exploratory committee for a different office while avoiding “statements or conduct” that constitute a formal declaration of candidacy.

“…we believe that allowing state officials to form exploratory committees strikes a proper balance of interest by permitting the officials to test the waters of the campaign pool for another position while enabling them to dedicate themselves to the offices for which they were elected,” wrote Woods.
Romley, years later, advised in an informal memorandum that candidates would not run contrary to the law if they themselves refrained from collecting necessary nominating signatures to qualify as a candidate for a different elected office.

Officeholders were also permitted to raise funds and spend money for “exploratory purposes,” but filing as a participating candidate in Arizona’s system of publicly funded campaigns would violate the law, advised Romley.

This year, accusations of resign-to-run violations have been aimed toward at least three officeholders, Sen. John Huppenthal, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema and Attorney General Terry Goddard.
The accusations have come through informal channels like media outlets and the blogosphere. Historically, resign-to-run laws have had little impact on Arizona’s political scene.

Huppenthal was noted by the ~Arizona Guardian~, a Capitol online news outlet, to be personally collecting nominating signatures for office. He defended the practice under the 1993 opinion, stating he explicitly informs supporters he is still deciding whether he will seek the office.

The other two alleged violations of the state’s resign-to-run statutes this year have come from Greg Patterson, a former state lawmaker who regularly blogs on Arizona politics. In June, Patterson detailed that Sinema indicated her intention to run for the Arizona Senate in 2010 on a social networking Web site. The entry has since been removed.

Patterson, who lobbies the Arizona Corporation Commission, also previously accused Goddard of breaking the law when he delivered a speech this summer to Democrats in West Phoenix and declared, “I intend to run for governor.”

Similar informal accusations or notices of alleged resign-to-run violations are nothing new. In 2007, Republican Senate President Tim Bee was hounded almost daily by the Arizona Democratic Party for forming an exploratory committee that preceded a congressional campaign against Gabrielle Giffords, first term Democrat seeking re-election.

A formal complaint against Bee was filed with the Attorney General’s Office. And like Bee’s campaign, the complaint was unsuccessful.

Some believe Sen. Russell Pearce violated the law in 2007 when, just 10 days after he was sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives, he created a campaign committee for the Senate and raised nearly $2,000 for his campaign that year.

To date, formal resign-to-run complaints have led to action on only one occasion, according to Arizona State University law professor Paul Bender.

In 1982, Tucson City Council member Roy B. Laos was removed from office for failing to resign his post during a campaign for Congress. His punishment was upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The limited amount of legal action that has cropped up from the laws can be viewed as proof of the mandate’s effectiveness, or evidence the law is useless, he said, noting officeholders are still free to raise money and campaign for their next office, albeit unofficially.

“You don’t need to formally announce more than a year before the end of your term,” Bender said. “If the only thing the law is going to do is stop you from formally announcing, it really isn’t going to have much effect.”

About the only practical effect of Arizona’s resign-to-run prohibition is felt by newly-elected governors interesting in trading their position for a six-year term in the U.S. Senate, he said.

Political consultant Constantin Querard said the laws may be well-intentioned, but they ultimately fail to have any meaningful effect on elected officials who, in reality, are constantly weighing their career options.

“Now we have elected officials tap-dancing around so they can stay legal,” he said. “Clearly, there are legislators who are going to be running for other offices in 2010, and everybody seems to know exactly who they are. So, how effective is the law, except to increase the hassle-factor onto them for doing so?”

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