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House committee passes bill creating Arizona lieutenant governor position

Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer inherited the office the first time from Janet Napolitano, when Napolitano resigned to take a position in the Obama Administration.

Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer inherited the office the first time from Janet Napolitano, when Napolitano resigned to take a position in the Obama Administration.

A proposal approved by a House panel Monday would change what happens in Arizona when a governor dies, quits or is forcibly removed from office.

The legislation before the Elections Committee would create a new post of lieutenant governor. That person would run for election with the governor on the same ticket.

Potentially most significant, the lieutenant governor presumably would be of the same party – or at least the same political philosophy – as the state’s chief executive. Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said that will guarantee some sort of continuity.

“The voters wanted a particular vision in the governor’s office when they supported the governor and don’t intend that to change,” he said.

“Many people don’t fully grasp that the secretary of state is the one who takes over,” Mesnard explained. And that person could have an entirely different philosophy – meaning a radical change in policy.

That occurred in 1988 when the Senate ejected Republican Evan Mecham from office after the House voted to impeach him. That elevated Democrat Rose Mofford to the top spot.

More recently, Democrat Janet Napolitano resigned in 2009 to take a job in the Obama administration, leaving Republican Jan Brewer in charge.

Even assuming the measure survives the legislative process, the voters would get the last word in 2016. That’s because the change requires amending the Arizona Constitution.

A similar proposal was rejected by voters in 2010, at least in part because it created a convoluted process for choosing who would be nominated for lieutenant governor.

Mesnard gets around this by creating what amounts to a federal system: Once someone is nominated for governor through a primary, he or she picks a running mate. Independent candidates would have the same obligation.

Rep. Jonathan Larkin, D-Glendale, said he’s not sure that’s the best way to choose someone who would be a heartbeat away from governor.

“I’m not saying that your best friend from high school wouldn’t do a good job and he’s more than qualified,” he said. “But it could go the other direction, too.”

Mesnard said he doesn’t see that as a problem. He said if the gubernatorial hopeful chooses a loser for the No. 2 slot, the voters will know that ahead of going to the polls.

“They will see both names on the ballot,” he said.

Mesnard said his proposal to create a new elected position does not expand the size of state government. The lieutenant governor would automatically serve as head of the state Department of Administration, the agency that oversees internal operations of the state.

In fact, he said, there could be a small savings.

It would be up to a future salary commission to decide the appropriate pay. But it is virtually certain to be less than the $95,000 a year now paid to the governor.

And the last director of the Department of Administration – there is currently only an interim appointment – was paid $162,750 a year.

Only Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, voted against HB 2265 and HCR 2024, the companion constitutional amendment, saying there are too many “unanswered questions” about the proposal.

Successions to Arizona governor:

1948 – Dan Garvey becomes governor on death of Sidney Osborn.
1977 – Wesley Bolin becomes governor when Raul Castro resigns to become ambassador to Argentina.
1978 – Attorney General Bruce Babbitt becomes governor on Bolin’s death; Secretary of State Rose Mofford could not take the post because she had been appointed to replace Bolin as secretary of state. As an appointed – not elected – secretary of state, she was constitutionally ineligible to become governor, putting the attorney general next in line.
1988 – Mofford, who subsequently won election as secretary of state, becomes governor after impeachment and removal of Evan Mecham.
1997 – Jane Hull becomes governor after Fife Symington quits following felony conviction.
2009 – Janet Napolitano quits to become Homeland Security chief in the Obama administration, making Jan Brewer the governor.

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