The secretary of state has ascended to the Arizona governor’s office four times in recent decades. Twice, including last year, that’s meant a governor from a different political party.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett says that change of direction is confusing for the public.
“When the people of Arizona elected Janet Napolitano as governor, I think they legitimately wanted her policies to continue for the next four years,” he said.
Bennett said he hopes the latest switch, when Republican Gov. Jan Brewer replaced Napolitano, a Democrat, will help generate enough momentum to rename his office lieutenant governor.
“If we rename the position of secretary of state as lieutenant governor, it would probably help a few more voters understand that that is the position that takes over if the governor is to leave,” he said.
Even more, Bennett wants to see each party’s candidates for governor run as a ticket, something a group assembled by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has recommended.
“Whether we call that second position secretary of state or lieutenant governor I don’t think is nearly as important as the question of do we connect the No. 1 office with the No. 2 office,” Bennett said.
Sen. Jonathan Paton, a Tucson Republican, has introduced a resolution that would have voters decide whether to change the office of secretary of state, while leaving its duties intact, to lieutenant governor. It doesn’t call for the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a ticket.
“To me it’s the truth-in-advertising aspect that’s the most important thing here,” Paton said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Paton chairs, unanimously endorsed SCR 1013 last week, sending it to the Senate floor by way of the Rules Committee. The panel adopted an amendment offered by Sen. John Huppenthal, a Chandler Republican, to make the name change take effect in 2015.
According to the National Lieutenant Governors Association, 45 states have a lieutenant governor’s office. About half of those states have the governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket.
The O’Connor House, a civic discussion group including the former justice, elected officials and other influential Arizonans, has recommended having a governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket as part of its proposal for reforming state government.
While Bennett, who addressed the committee, recommended amending the bill to have the governor and lieutenant governor run together, Paton said it might be better to deal with that later.
“I think this is something the public is most likely to vote for right now,” Paton said.
The Arizona secretary of state oversees elections, registering lobbyists and administering the Uniform Commercial Code, among other duties.
In 1994, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot proposition that would have created the post of lieutenant governor as a separate office. Bennett said the idea of simply changing the secretary of state’s title would more appealing.
“I think the only way the people will accept this, if they do, is if we change the name but don’t create any new office or bureaucracy,” he said.
Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University professor who directs the Cronkite/Eight Poll, said changing the secretary of state’s title to lieutenant governor would enhance the credibility of state government and likely would be a popular idea with voters.
“I think as long as it doesn’t cost anyone too much money then it won’t be a big deal,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Gray, a Mesa Republican, introduced a bill similar to Paton’s in 2008, but it wasn’t taken up in committee. In 2006, a similar bill introduced by former Rep. Gary L. Pierce, a Mesa Republican, won House approval but was held in the Senate.
House Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat, said she voted against the 2006 measure because it didn’t require that governor and lieutenant governor candidates run as a team.
“Each time the secretary of state takes office (as governor), people are surprised,” she said.
Cases of succession in the Arizona governor’s office:
Here are cases when the office of Arizona governor has changed hands midterm:
2009: Democrat Janet Napolitano resigned to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, replaced by Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican.
1997: Republican Fife Symington resigned after a federal fraud conviction that later was overturned, replaced by Secretary of State Jane Dee Hull, a Republican.
1988: Republican Evan Mecham was removed from office after impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate, succeeded by Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat.
1977: Democrat Raul Castro resigned to become U.S. ambassador to Argentina, replaced by Secretary of State Wesley Bolin, a Democrat who died after less than a year in office. Bolin was replaced by Attorney General Bruce Babbit, a Democrat.
1948: Democrat Sidney Osborn died, replaced by Secretary of State Dan Garvey, a Democrat.