Clean Elections Commission on verge of losing quorum

Ben Giles//June 7, 2019

Clean Elections Commission on verge of losing quorum

Ben Giles//June 7, 2019

Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission is months away from a crisis.

Two of the five appointed commissioners are overstaying their welcome. Their 5-year terms each expired in the past two years. Come January 2020, a third commissioner’s term will also expire.

The Clean Elections Act, approved by voters in 1998, states that commissioners “shall serve no more than one term” and are “not eligible for reappointment.”

Mark Kimble
Mark Kimble

And while there’s precedent elsewhere in state law to allow commissioners to continue to serve, they’d prefer if Gov. Doug Ducey takes his lawful turn to choose a new appointee.

By law, appointments to the Citizen Clean Elections Commission, or CCEC, alternate between the governor and the highest ranking elected official of the opposite political party. The last appointment was made by Katie Hobbs, then the Senate minority leader at a time when no Democrats served in statewide office.

That made her the highest-ranking Democrat in 2017, a title she can again claim now that she’s been elected secretary of state.

But according to statute, Hobbs can’t make another appointment until after Ducey. And the governor has gone without picking a new commissioner for more than 16 months, since Commissioner Steve Titla’s term expired on January 31, 2018.

The Arizona chapter of the League of Women Voters sent a letter to the governor in early May, urging him to help restore the commission to a full roster of active commissioners.

“The League believes that the Commission furthers several of our primary goals: encouraging informed citizen participation in the political process, improving the integrity of the voting process, and diminishing the influence of special interest money in the election process,” the League wrote. “However, in order to conduct any business, the Commission requires a quorum of at least three members be present.”

Put another way, it’s bad enough that Titla and fellow Commissioner Damien Meyer, whose term expired on January 31, remain in a holdover capacity.

Damien Meyer
Damien Meyer

It’ll get even worse once Commissioner Mark Kimble’s term expires next January 31.

“Members who have faithfully fulfilled their duties to the Commission and the state of [Arizona] have tried to continue to attend as many meetings as they can in order to ensure that the Commission has a quorum and can thus function properly,” the League wrote. “The League believes that it is imperative on the Governor, as the highest ranking officer of the Republican Party, to fulfill his lawful duty to the Commission.”

After addressing the League’s letter at its May 30 meeting, commissioners weighed their own options to urge Ducey to act.

CCEC Executive Director Tom Collins noted that, come January 2020, the issue becomes “really ripe” once Kimble’s term expires.

“We’re really six months away from a potential crisis on this issue,” Collins said.

Collins suggested the commissioners could craft a letter to send to the Ducey administration, an effort Commissioner Amy Chan said won’t go far enough.

Chan said Ducey’s failure to appoint a new commission may be the result of his political leanings.

“Frankly, the problem is we have a governor who doesn’t like Clean Elections,” Chan said on May 30. “So it’s like his philosophy or policy disagreement is impacting the legitimacy of this independent, non-partisan election body, and that really is what the crux of the matter is. And how do we get him to move on that.”

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said there’s a simpler explanation for why the governor hasn’t made an appointment in over a year.

“The governor takes every appointment he makes very seriously, and our priority is to identify a qualified candidate to fill this vacancy. We have not received any applications for this vacancy that meet the statutory resident and partisan qualifications,” Ptak wrote in a statement.

The Governor’s Office has received four applications for the commission vacancies since January 2017, and none met the qualifications required of a potential commissioner, Ptak said.

Vacancies to any board or commission, like CCEC, are posted on the governor’s website, and Ptak added that Ducey’s staff meets regularly with individuals and organizations to encourage applicants to apply for those vacancies.

“We have and will continue communicating with the Commission’s executive director throughout this
process and we hope to make an appointment soon,” Ptak stated.

Steve Titla
Steve Titla

In the meantime, commissioners like Titla and Meyer may continue to serve under a state law that allows officers to “continue to discharge the duties of the office, although the term has expired, until a successor has qualified.”

And commissioners settled on requesting a meeting between Kimble, their chairman, and Ducey Chief of Staff Daniel Scarpinato to stress the urgent need for new appointees.

If Ducey follows through, he’s barred by law from appointing a Republican. That’s because no more than two appointees to the commission may be a member of any one political party. Since two of the three commissioners whose terms are still active are Republicans, the governor may either choose a Democrat or an independent.

That’s due in part to a shrewd decision by Hobbs, who in 2017 tapped Chan, a Republican who once served as elections director under former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

Hobbs had the option to choose an independent at the time. But by appointing Chan, Hobbs effectively blocked Ducey from appointing a member of his own political party. The two commissioners whose terms have expired, Titla and Meyer, are both Democrats.

Chan and Commissioner Galen Paten are Republicans, while Kimble, whose term expires next year, is an independent.

Since there are two vacancies, Hobbs will be able to make her own appointment immediately after Ducey acts.