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Newcomers join familiar faces in seeking to fill vacant legislative seats

Sen. Jack Jackson, Jr. (Photo by Lauren Sara/.Cronkite News)

Arizona Sen. Jack Jackson Jr. submitted his letter of resignation on July 12, and Sen. Rich Crandall may do the same as soon as August, leaving officials a matter of weeks to submit lists of nominees to fill two vacant seats in the Senate chamber.

Some familiar faces in Arizona’s political landscape have already expressed interest in being appointed to represent Jackson’s Legislative District 7 and Crandall’s Legislative District 16.  But other newcomers are also looking for an opportunity to gain entry to the state Capitol without the blood, sweat and tears of a primary election.

There’s no shortage of interest in Crandall’s seat now that the Mesa Republican has been selected by Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead to head the state’s Department of Education. Senate hopefuls include:

• Rep. Kelly Townsend, a Tea Party Republican who’s hoping to make a quick jump from the House to the Senate.

• Jerry Clingman and Mara Benson, LD16 GOP leaders who also happen to be precinct committeemen responsible for submitting a list of nominees to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors for approval.

• John Fillmore, a former state representative who challenged Crandall for the Senate seat in the 2012 primary but lost by more than 800 votes.

Jackson, who started his new job in Washington, D.C. as an environmental liaison for the U.S. State Department on July 15, said Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels, a former state senator in his own right, is the most likely candidate to move to the Senate. But two others have also called Jackson expressing their interest:

• Zane Thomas, who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Apache County Board of Supervisors last fall.

• Carlyle Begay, vice president of business development at American Indian Health and Management Policy.

Jackson said Thomas and Begay called to ask about the appointment process in Apache County.  With no precinct committeemen in the county to make nominations to the board of supervisors, a citizens’ panel will be formed in Apache County to submit nominees to the board.

Hale, who served in the Arizona Senate until he was termed out in 2010, would be an ideal candidate, Jackson said.

“We’re talking about experience, and he certainly brings that back into the Senate,” Jackson said.

Begay said he’s contacted the Apache County Board of Supervisors to determine if he’s eligible to be nominated to the Senate based on the residency requirements.  The Democrat has lived in Gilbert for the last seven years but said he’s maintained an address in Apache County since childhood.

“I’ve always kept a fairly close tie to issues on the Navajo Nation and issues particularly related to the Navajo government,” Begay said.

Crandall is scheduled to begin working part time in Wyoming on Aug. 1, said Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead. Were he to step down before then, precinct committeemen in LD16 would have 21 days to submit three nominees to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Once the nominees are in, the board has no deadline to pick from among the three names given them by the precinct committeemen.

Fillmore said he’s interested in getting an early boost to the Senate by appointment, but his nomination could be challenged based on his residency. Though he lives in LD16, Fillmore is a registered voter in Pinal County, and Crandall’s replacement must come from the county where the outgoing senator is from: Maricopa.

A recent opinion from Attorney General Tom Horne confirmed that state law requires a vacancy be filled by someone from the same county as the person leaving office.

Fillmore said he believes he can make the case that he lives in Maricopa County, though he acknowledged he’s registered to vote in Pinal County. The former state representative owns a business and an apartment in Mesa, and said he hopes precinct committeemen consider Pinal County’s needs when making their nominations.

“I represent both. I always have,” Fillmore said. “I live in one, I work in the other. I probably spend more time at work at times than at home, unfortunately.”

Fillmore said he wasn’t sure if he’d make a push to be nominated, but regardless of who replaced Crandall, Fillmore said he plans to run again in 2014.

Clingman, chair of the district’s Republican Party, and vice chair Benson both said they were eager for the chance to serve in the Senate if chosen by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Clingman owns an electronic service company in Mesa, while Benson is a real estate agent in the city.

Townsend, who just began serving her first term in the House in January, said that while she’s expressed an interest in serving in the Senate, she’d be content to continue serving in the House.

“I’m not wringing my hands over the whole thing, I’m just letting the process take its course,” Townsend said.

Thomas Grier, a Mesa Republican who announced his intention to run for a House seat in District 16, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Crandall. But Grier said that it’s still his intention to run for the House and he won’t actively pursue the Senate nomination.

Republican Taylor McArthur, who recently announced his intent to run for the LD16 Senate seat in 2014, is too young to be appointed and sworn in as a state lawmaker. The 23-year-old events director for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce won’t turn 25, the age required to serve at the Capitol, until August 2014.

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