Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has created a stir with recent comments suggesting she believes she could run for another term — despite state constitutional limits that many believe would prohibit a campaign in 2014.
The Arizona Constitution limits governors from serving more than two consecutive terms and specifies that the maximum number of terms “shall include any part of a term served.”
Brewer was the elected secretary of state in January 2009 when she was elevated to the governor’s office by Democrat Janet Napolitano’s midterm resignation. Brewer, a Republican, won a four-year term in November.
The governor told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday that she may not be barred from running again in 2014 because of “ambiguity” in the term limits initiative approved by voters in 1992 as an amendment to the state Constitution.
“The Constitution is not really clear,” she said. “It’s never been challenged.”
Brewer made the remark just weeks after telling The Associated Press in an interview that she thought she wouldn’t be running again for office.
“I’m going to assume this will probably be my last election,” Brewer said on April 19, referring to the 2010 campaign.
Her comments to the Republic reflect a contention of her top staff lawyer, Joseph Kanefield. The term limits provision states that a term consists of four years, and it’s not at all clear that limits on the number of consecutive terms applies to Brewer’s first two years in office, he said.
“I truly believe that a successor term is something different from an elected term,” Kanefield said. “It’s not as unambiguous as some are arguing.”
However, constitutional law expert Paul Bender, an Arizona State University law professor, said it is clear.
The only way Brewer can run in 2014 without facing a court challenge would be to ask voters to amend the Constitution in 2012, he said.
“This is in the Constitution. I don’t see any way around it for her.”
Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, who served as Brewer’s 2010 campaign co-chairman, said there are “some ambiguities” that would be good to get cleared up.
But, Woods said, “as much as I love the governor, I think a court would eventually rule that a partial term counts as a full term.”
Officials in the Secretary of State’s Office said most people read the Constitution to include partial terms as counting toward the limits, meaning that Brewer could not run in 2014.
“That’s what our reading of it also is,” spokesman Matt Roberts said.
The Secretary of State’s Office would accept a 2014 re-election filing by Brewer but it then would be subject to a court challenge, Elections Director Amy Bjelland said.
It’s not at all clear that any of that will come to pass.
Brewer’s attempt to open the door for a possible 2014 run could just amount to posturing, said Richard Herrera, an Arizona State University associate professor of political science.
Any suggestion that Brewer is now a “lame duck” might be considered politically disadvantageous, Herrera said.
“Term limits suggest less power, less influence and less control, and I don’t think any politician wants to be talked about that — or even portrayed — that way,” Herrera said.
Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson noted that Brewer is just five months into her four-year term. And given her recent vetoes of 29 legislative bills, “I think the last thing that anyone is talking about is that she’s a lame duck,” he said.
After serving a partial term and then winning a full four-year term in 1998, then-Gov. Jane Hull had similar musings about running for a second four-year term. But Hull got burned by a fiscal fiasco involving unexpectedly expensive subsidies for alternative-fuel cars and she didn’t run again.
And 2014 is three years away for Brewer, who would turn 70 that year.
Benson said his boss hasn’t decided whether she’d want to run for another four-year term.
“All I can tell you is this has been a point of some discussion and something she has indicated would like to be explored,” possibly by requesting an opinion from the state attorney general, Benson said. “I think that’s probably the first step.”
However, Kanefield said he doesn’t expect Brewer to take any action any time soon. “It’s not a question that she needs to resolve today.”