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Resign-to-run change lets candidates say what they mean

GAl Melvin no longer has to pretend he’s considering, exploring or contemplating a run for governor. He’s running. It’s as simple as that.

The Republican senator from SaddleBrooke was the first candidate to formally abandon his exploratory committee and file an official candidate committee on Sept. 13 when a new version of the state’s resign-to-run law went into effect.

Under the resign-to-run law, which voters approved in 1980, elected officials could not officially become candidates for another office, including through a “formal, public declaration of candidacy,” until the last year of their term. If someone violated the law, their office was deemed vacant.

Thanks to HB2157, formal declarations of candidacy no longer violate the resign-to-run law. The only way candidates can trigger the law now is by filing their nomination papers.

Melvin said he knew when he created his exploratory committee in April that he would run for governor. But to avoid running afoul of resign-to-run, he took great pains whenever he spoke about the race to include the words “exploratory committee” and emphasize that he was only considering a run.

“To me, it’s such a relief. I knew I was dead serious when I announced on April 22,” Melvin said. “I knew what I wanted to do all along and now I can drop those two words.”

Violating the resign-to-run law has proven extraordinarily difficult. Candidates have still been able to collect signatures for their nominating petitions, raise money and declare their intentions to run. In December 2009, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall cleared five officeholders of alleged resign-to-run violations that ranged from collecting signatures to filing official candidate committees.

Rep. John Kavanagh, who sponsored HB2157, said the changes allow candidates to be more honest about their intentions. Instead of pretending they’re “exploring” while they collect signatures and raise money, they can simply acknowledge that they’re seeking another office without fear of repercussions.

“This puts honesty back into the system. It respects the voters and it restores a little bit of credibility to the candidate who can tell the truth,” said Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

Exploring nothing

Former Attorney General Terry Goddard said resign-to-run led to a lot of “subterfuge.”

Goddard was one of the five candidates investigated and subsequently cleared by LaWall in 2009. His alleged violation? Telling a Democratic group earlier in the year that he intended to run for governor in 2010.

It was widely assumed at the time that Goddard, who was attorney general at the time, would be the Democratic nominee for governor, and Goddard answered a question from an audience member about his intentions.

“You have to explain to me exactly what the difference is between announcing to the world that you’re a candidate and having an exploratory committee that, for all intents and purposes, is focused on one office,” Goddard said.

Some people legitimately create exploratory committees because they’re testing the waters for a particular race, Goddard said. But many are only to sidestep resign-to-run, he said, and the new law will get rid of that practice.

“It gets rid of these fantasy exploratories where everybody knows they’re not exploring anything,” Goddard said.

Some candidates were more cautious than others when it came to resign-to-run. Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, formed an exploratory committee in December but didn’t list an office, though it was well-known in political circles that she had her eye on the Secretary of State’s Office. In August, Reagan officially listed the office, but kept the exploratory committee.

Conversely, around the same time Reagan filed her exploratory committee, Kavanagh filed a full candidate committee to run for the Senate seat she’s expected to vacate in Legislative District 23. Kavanagh said Melvin could have done the same without violating resign-to-run.

“He didn’t have to do that,” Kavanagh said of Melvin’s exploratory committee.

More cautious than necessary

Lee Miller, a Republican elections attorney, said many candidates are more cautious than they legally need to be. But he said there are still practical reasons for elected officials to start with exploratory committees because of the perception they might give constituents if they formally launch a campaign.

“They are legitimately concerned about the blowback from their existing constituents,” Miller said. “Kavanagh was absolutely legally correct. But for a lot of reasons, it’s probably prudent not to be so correct.”

Some people will still be forced to resign, no matter what, if they want to seek another office. County-level officials and many city officials who are on different election cycles than the state will still have to step down if they want to seek a statewide office, as former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas did when he ran for attorney general in 2010. And statewide officials could still be forced to resign if they want to jump into U.S. House or Senate races, depending on how far into their terms they are.

Miller said resign-to-run isn’t a big deal for legislators who serve two-year terms. But for state, county and city officials who have four-year terms, it’s a problem.

“When you have a four-year term, opportunities come up in the interim election that you might want to pursue. But in order to pursue those opportunities in the interim election, you’ve got to quit. And there’s no way around that,” Miller said. “For anybody who’s got a four-year term, resign-to-run is a legitimate penalty for being ambitious.”

Goddard may have avoided resign-to-run in 2009. But in 1990, during his first campaign for governor, he was forced to resign as mayor of Phoenix, a job he said he would have loved to have kept.

Nonetheless, Goddard said he supports the new truncated version of resign-to-run.

“Then it keeps, I think, the best parts of the old program and gets rid of … the opportunity to commit deception,” he said.

Kavanagh said he would have preferred to abolish resign-to-run altogether, but didn’t think there was enough support for that in the Legislature. And after all, the law was approved by the voters.

“I have a certain respect for the intent of the voters. But I don’t think it was the intent of the voters to have people play deceptive charades,” Kavanagh said. “So I had no problem ending that aspect.”

Besides, Kavanagh said, there’s only so much you can do with a poorly written law.

“You can’t help everybody,” he said.

 

The Law

HB2157 allows an incumbent elected official to make a formal declaration of candidacy for another office without having been deemed to have offered himself up for nomination.

 

 

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