Arizona senators approved a bill to give the state’s voters a chance to shake up the line of succession for the governor’s office.
The ballot referral, which advanced on a bipartisan 23-7 vote, calls for gubernatorial candidates to choose a lieutenant governor to serve as their backup. If approved by the House of Representatives, the question would appear on 2020 ballot, allowing voters a final say on the proposed amendment to the Arizona Constitution.
Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler secured the support of most Republicans and some colleagues across the aisle even though a Democrat, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, is the first in line to succeed if Gov. Doug Ducey, for any reason, leaves office in the next four years.
The amendment ensures the next-in-line to the governor is from the same political party as the governor that voters elected.
Mesnard’s proposed constitutional amendment wouldn’t take effect until 2027, ensuring that Hobbs will remain first in line for the governor’s office for at least her first term as secretary of state, and if re-elected in 2022, for her second term, too.
This means starting with the 2026 election, candidates for governor must pick a running mate no later than 60 days before the election starting.
Mesnard abandoned a companion bill that would have spelled out the duties of a lieutenant governor in state law. His proposal called for the second-in-command to also serve as the director of the Department of Administration, a role currently appointed by elected governors.
While supportive in concept of a lieutenant governor, not everyone backs Mesnard’s vision for the office.
“That seemed to be the hangup, for whatever reason,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be a partisan issue, and agreed to pull it.”
If voters approve the constitutional amendment in 2020, there’d still be plenty of time to sort out the role of the lieutenant governor before the 2026 election.
The amendment mimics the presidential election, in which the candidate advanced by each political party chooses a running mate to appear on the ballot. Mesnard said he hopes the proposal is simple enough to garner support from Arizona voters, who twice have rejected different ballot measures to create a lieutenant governor – first in 1994 by a 2-1 margin, then again in 2010 by roughly 59 percent of voters.
“If this fails, I think we are done with the lieutenant governor in this state for a long time,” Mesnard said. “This is as basic as it gets, and as easy to understand as it gets.”