A Republican lawmaker is again asking voters to give Arizona a lieutenant governor, a role that would supersede the secretary of state as first in the line of succession for the governor’s office.
The maneuver may raise eyebrows given its timing. Arizona voters just elected a Democrat, Katie Hobbs, as secretary of state, making her the first Democrat to serve in that capacity in more than two decades. If Republican Gov. Doug Ducey leaves office for any reason in the next four years, a Democrat would rise to the most powerful political office in the state.
But this is not a new effort for Sen. J.D. Mesnard. As a state representative, the Chandler Republican sponsored a nearly identical measure in 2015 to shake up the line of succession in a way that ensures the next-in-line as governor is from the same political party as the governor that voters elected.
Twice since the late 1980s the governor of one party was replaced by a secretary of state from a different party.
Mesnard wants to ensure that never happens again, at least not after another eight years.
His resolution wouldn’t take effect until 2027, meaning the 2026 gubernatorial race would be the first election that candidates for governor would have to choose a lieutenant governor to be named alongside them on the ballot. Gubernatorial candidates would have to pick their running mate no later than 60 days before election day.
Delaying the resolution’s effective date ensures that Hobbs, the newly elected secretary of state, would still be first in the line of succession for at least two terms. That way, she could continue to serve under the rules that were in effect when she ran for office until she’s termed out in 2026.
Mesnard’s proposal has some renewed support from his fellow Republicans, but bipartisan support as well from Democrats like Rep. Randy Friese, the assistant minority leader in the House. Friese supported Mesnard’s approach in 2015, and previously said he’d support it again, as long as it doesn’t take effect until after Hobbs leaves office.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Mesnard is voters themselves.
Efforts to create a lieutenant governor have twice been rejected at the ballot in the last two decades – first in 1994 by a 2-1 margin, then again in 2010 by roughly 59 percent of voters.
If lawmakers approved Mesnard’s resolution, voters would settle the matter on the 2020 ballot.
A companion bill to Mesnard’s proposed ballot measure details the job duties for a lieutenant governor. In addition to sitting atop the line of succession, lieutenants would serve as the director of the Arizona Department of Administration, a role that’s currently occupied by an appointee of the governor.