Several days of coast-to-coast mockery led Secretary of State Ken Bennett today to apologize for embarrassing Arizona with inquiries about Barack Obama’s birth certificate and reverse course on earlier comments that he may keep the president off the ballot unless Hawaii officials certify that he was born there.
“If I embarrassed the state, I apologize. But that certainly wasn’t my intent,” Bennett said in an interview on KTAR today. “And I don’t think there’s anything embarrassing about doing my job, (trying) to do everything I can to help as many Arizonans as possible have confidence that the ballot is correct and the people on it are entitled to be there.”
Bennett’s request that Hawaii officials certify that they have a copy of Obama’s birth certificate was met with ridicule and derision in state and national media, which criticized him for pursuing the long-debunked conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the United States and therefore isn’t eligible to be president.
But he emphasized that he is not a “birther” and believes Obama was born in Hawaii. Bennett, who already has an exploratory committee open for a gubernatorial run in 2014, said he was not pandering to anyone, but was trying to help as many Arizonans as possible have confidence that everyone on the November ballot is entitled to be there.
“I didn’t make any big publicity about it or have a press conference saying that I was doing something. I just downloaded the form, paid $5 out of my pocket, sent it into Hawaii thinking that in a few days or weeks I’d receive a verification, and I could tell these (constituents), ‘yes, I’ve done this last little step that no one else has done before,’” Bennett said.
The Secretary of State’s Office received more than 1,200 emails regarding birther conspiracy theories after Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio claimed his investigators found evidence that Obama’s long-form birth certificate was a forgery, Bennett said.
Bennett said many of the emails made unrealistic or impossible requests, such as asking Hawaii for an actual copy of the birth certificate. But some asked him to make use of a provision in Hawaii law allowing people to ask for certification that it has Obama’s birth certificate on file.
The secretary said no one in Arizona had made the request, so he felt it was proper for him to do so. Though Hawaiian officials have certified Obama’s birth certificate in the past, Bennett said there’s nothing wrong with getting a little extra certification.
“What’s wrong with verifying something a second or third time?” Bennett said. “What is so sacred or untouchable about this question that you can’t even ask the question?”
Hawaiian officials have not yet complied with Bennett’s request, and asked him to prove he has a legitimate reason to ask for the certification.
Presidential candidates are not required by Arizona law to show or certify birth certificates proving they were born in the U.S.
“He’ll be on the ballot as long as he fills out the same paperwork and certifies the same things that everybody else has to certify,” Bennett said today, which is an entirely different statement than the Republican made last week when he said he may prevent the president from appearing on the Arizona ballot.
Gov. Jan Brewer, Bennett’s predecessor as secretary of state, vetoed a bill last year that would have required presidential candidates to provide long-form birth certificates to qualify for the ballot. She said she spoke with former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, who verified for her that the state has a copy of a birth certificate showing that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Brewer also said birtherism is leading the United States down a “path to destruction.”
Neither Bennett nor his spokesman Matt Roberts could be immediately reached for comment.