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House committee OKs ‘Resign to Run’ law changes

Rep. John Kavanagh (File Photo)

A House Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would allow elected officials to more easily launch campaigns for another office without triggering Arizona’s “Resign to Run” law.

The current law requires officials not in the last year of their term to resign their seat once they make a formal announcement that they’re running or they file official paperwork with the Secretary of State. Republican Rep. John Kavanagh said his proposed bill will end what he calls the “charade” of politicians essentially lying to the public about only exploring a run for another office when everyone knows they’re running.

Kavanagh’s bill would redefine official candidacy to only include the formal paperwork filing.

“Rather than not let people be truthful, which goes to transparency, rather than not let them tell people what they’re doing, which goes to First Amendment free speech rights, I will simply say let’s stop the charade” and let people say they’re running, he said.

Bad idea, said Rep. Martin Quezada, one of two Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill. Five Republicans voted in favor.

“I think the problem is this basically nullifies what’s in the constitution, a constitutional restriction,” Quezada said. “I think the whole purpose of that constitutional provision is to make sure that elected officials are doing the job that their constituents elected them to do.”

The law Kavanagh is seeking to change was approved by voters in 1980.

Quezada said if the bill is passed it would also allow elected officials to take advantage of the publicity and power the office holds at the expense of other candidates.

The bill now goes to the House floor after a routine legal review by the Rules Committee.

Supporters of the 1980 law argued at the time that the public is entitled to have its election officials serve without the distractions of midterm campaigning for other offices.

Two southern Arizona elected officials — Tucson City Council member Roy B. Laos and Pima County Supervisor Conrad Joyner — were forced to leave their offices in 1984 in the wake of unsuccessful midterm runs for Congress in 1982.

In the run-up to the 1998 elections, then-state Sen. John Kaites, R-Glendale, was able to keep his legislative seat despite raising more than $200,000 with an exploratory committee for attorney general. A special prosecutor hired by state and county prosecutors concluded that Kaites did not break the law.

More recently, nothing came of Democrats’ complaints that then-Senate President Tim Bee, R-Tucson, was violating at least the spirit of the law through his fundraising before formally announcing his unsuccessful candidacy for a U.S. House seat in 2008. And in 2009, former state Attorney General Terry Goddard and four state legislators were allowed to retain their seats after a Pima County Attorney investigation found some of their actions were questionable but didn’t clearly violate the law.

The Pima County opinion said the law isn’t clear when it says violations occur when an officeholder “offers himself for nomination for election” or makes a “formal public declaration of candidacy.”

Without clarifying legislation, prospective candidates risk “prematurely forfeiting their offices,” the opinion said.

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