The deadline for Arizona’s resign-to-run law has passed for this election cycle, but the bad taste lingers on for at least one lawmaker.
Rep. Sam Crump said he plans to sponsor legislation that would put resign-to-run on the ballot in November. He said the law was well- intentioned but ineffective, and hopes voters will repeal the law they approved in 1980.
The law, which prohibits elected officials from seeking another office until the final year of their term, has had little impact, because candidates are still allowed to form exploratory committees, raise money and gather endorsements.
Plus, apparently, they can talk all they want about their plans to run without expressly saying they will do so. Many public officials dance around an official declaration to avoid breaking the law, yet that doesn’t stop opponents from accusing them of taking it too far.
“Really it just gets whittled down to this game of gotcha, of people saying, ‘He said the magic words, so therefore he’s out of office,’” Crump said. “Now, with the advent of mobile video, people are literally running around trying to catch you doing something like that.”
There were myriad examples last year; five officeholders were accused of resign-to-run violations. All five were cleared in an investigation by the Pima County Attorney’s Office.
Attorney General Terry Goddard was hit with allegations that he violated the law when he told a Democratic Party in Sun City that he intended to run for governor in 2010, followed by subsequent accusations against Sen. John Huppenthal and Reps. Ray Barnes, Daniel Patterson and Kyrsten Sinema.
It’s extremely rare for elected officials to be forced from office for violating resign-to-run. Longtime Capitol insiders couldn’t recall anyone in the Legislature who had been penalized for violating the law.
Paul Bender, a law professor and state constitutional expert at Arizona State University, said Tucson City Councilman Roy B. Laos was forced to resign the position when he made a run for Congress in 1982.
In 1983, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pima County Supervisor Conrad Joyner should have resigned as well before starting a congressional campaign.
Crump, who filed an exploratory committee for the attorney general’s race in 2009, pointed to the spate of allegations last year as evidence of the law’s ineffectiveness.
“I’m not going to go into specifics, but we had some obvious violations,” the Anthem Republican said. “If those aren’t violations, what is? People clearly stated that they were running for a different office, forming committees for different offices. So what’s the point?”
According to the man who originally drafted the law, the point was to keep officeholders focused on their jobs and to prevent them from using government resources to further their campaigns. In 1979, then- Sen. Ed Sawyer drafted SCR1002, which put resign-to-run on the 1980 ballot.
Sawyer, a Safford Democrat, said the resolution was written to keep in check a state tax commissioner – which was then an elected position – who had been using state vehicles to travel around Arizona in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat.
Legislators don’t get state vehicles, though some statewide officeholders do. And those who don’t should have limits on the amount of time they spend campaigning for their next job, Sawyer said.
“If you’re elected to an office, you spend an awful lot of time out there campaigning and not doing your job,” he said.
Sawyer said he opposes the repeal of the law, even if it does at times seem ineffective.
“A lot of laws are ineffective, but we still have them on the books,” Sawyer said.
Rep. Ray Barnes said he doesn’t see it that way. The Phoenix Republican said it’s pointless to make candidates pretend they’re not seeking another office, when they obviously are.
“Everybody in the world knows I’m going to run for the Senate,” Barnes said. “What difference does it make if I do it two years before or one year before? It doesn’t make sense.”
Former Sen. Lela Alston, who left the Legislature in 1994 after 18 years and is running for the House this year, said she doesn’t recall how she voted on the resign-to-run resolution, which passed 57-3 in the House and 21-9 in the Senate. But she said the law should be repealed.
Alston, a Phoenix Democrat, also said the law is unfair to elected officials who aren’t on the same election cycle as state officials.
Goddard, for example, had to resign as Phoenix mayor when he began his first gubernatorial campaign in 1990 because he had been re-elected to a four-year term the previous year.
More recently, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has formed an exploratory committee for the attorney general’s race, but will have to resign his position because his term expires in 2012 instead of 2010, as the statewide terms do.
“I just don’t think it’s a very necessary law. I think the voters are savvy enough that they can realize that someone’s in an office and wants a different one,” Alston said.
Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, a House member at the time the resign-to-run resolution passed, said the law was a response to lawmakers who announced campaigns for higher office, then practically disappeared from the Capitol. She said the intent of the law was correct, though she said municipal and county officeholders were probably not taken into account.
McCune Davis said it’s a good law, though it may need some clarification.
“I know we’ve had some problem with defining the exploratory committees, so I think some clarification is definitely in order,” the Phoenix Democrat said. “I would be more inclined to clarify the current law than to put it back on the ballot.”
Resign-to-run was etched into the state Constitution, and therefore its repeal requires voter approval.
If voter attitudes toward the law haven’t changed since 1980, and if Crump’s resolution gets on the ballot it may hit a brick wall in November. Voters in 1980 approved it 69 percent to 31 percent. Bruce Merrill, an Arizona State University professor who runs the Cronkite/ Eight poll, said he doubts voters would be willing to reverse that decision.
“I don’t think people will react well to changing it because there is a high level of distrust, if not outright disgust, with politicians right now,” he said. “I don’t think they want candidates to have a longer period where they can use their offices for political gain.”