As Amy Chan, former Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s elections director describes it, he was such a great boss she was sad to leave his office when she did.
Chan, a Republican who is now the chair of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, has been one of the harshest critics of the Senate’s election audit, and doesn’t mince words about it.
But when it comes to her former boss, who is the face of the audit, she was less than willing to say anything critical because she still cares deeply for the man and maintains a close relationship with him as well as others from that office.
Chan said she knows his involvement is uncharacteristic of who he truly is and she was surprised to hear on April 1 when Senate President Karen Fann appointed Bennett as the liaison and de facto spokesman for the audit.
It also didn’t sit well with her.
“I wouldn’t want him to become involved in something that might turn out to be such a mess,” she told the Arizona Capitol Times, adding that she thought it would be another example of his overall good reputation being tainted by a controversy based mostly in false claims.
Critics of the audit say it lacks transparency, is being run by someone whose credibility is in question for his stated beliefs the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump, and he and the companies involved lack experience in election audits and sound elections practices and policies.
The controversies include auditors allowing former state Rep. Anthony Kern – an outspoken figure in the “Stop the Steal” movement who was photographed on the U.S. Capitol steps after his fellow protesters breached multiple barriers and broke into the building on January 6 – to count ballots.
Chan said Bennett has a lot of integrity and a well-deserved good reputation.
“I know how sincere he is, and that if he’s doing this, he’s doing it in earnest, but my concern is that being involved with something like this is gonna’ have a negative impact on that,” Chan said.
Bennett said he’s involved for a simple reason.
“I’m doing [the audit] because I want to make sure that Arizonans have confidence in their elections,” he said.
During his tenure as Arizona secretary of state, Bennett made it through relatively unscathed and without scandals or controversies – save for one that drew national attention.
In fact, Bennett’s office on the Seventh Floor of the Executive Tower has widely been considered one of the most competent offices in the past 20-or-so years in Arizona.
Bennett, a Republican from Prescott, ran the office and oversaw the state’s elections from 2009 to 2015, at first being appointed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer who elevated from that office when Democrat Gov. Janet Napolitano took a job in the Obama administration.
His one major scandal – if it can even be called such a thing – involved the birth certificate of President Obama, who was running for re-election in 2012 against Mitt Romney.
Despite the plethora of evidence including emails, radio interviews and even his own apology for delving into birtherism, Bennett is now denying that it ever happened.
Over multiple interviews with Capitol Times, and on several other occasions lately, Bennett said he was never trying to keep Obama off the ballot in 2012 and that he never asked for proof of citizenship.
In 2012, Bennett threatened to withhold Obama’s name from the ballot if he couldn’t receive confirmation from Hawaii that the president was actually born in the United States.
Bennett wrote an email on April 16, 2012, to the Hawaii deputy attorney general saying, “If the State of Hawaii does not confirm that [Obama] was born in Hawaii, his name will not appear on Arizona ballots.”
Those who have known Bennett over his many years in the public eye, found that his birther flap was uncharacteristic of the kind and welcoming person who not only occupied the second highest office in Arizona, but previously as Senate president.
Chan said to this day, almost a decade later, the birther story is still the biggest regret she has from that office. The whole thing was “unfortunate,” Chan said.
Chan left the office toward the end of 2013, but she reminisced about how Bennett would make a calendar with everyone’s birthday and wish them a happy birthday. Or, how he would bring in his vacuum from home and clean the floors of the office late at night. Or, how he and others would paint the walls of the office because they didn’t have enough money in the budget to pay people to do it.
“He just made it a really friendly collegial atmosphere. Always say hello to everybody, smile, wish them a good day. … he’s just a very personable human being. He’s got a very friendly demeanor, so he brings that with him to his job as secretary as well,” Chan said.
She said he’s smart and always wanted to really learn the ins and outs of the job overseeing the elections. But not just that part of the job. Also, the business side and administration.
“I think he did a fantastic job with it all,” she said.
Bennett over the years also grew a reputation as a fun person who would break out into pre-planned songs. He would bring out his guitar and write lyrics set to a popular song’s melody.
12 News reporter Brahm Resnik shared lyrics to a song Bennett wrote for him in 2012 about Resnik becoming an American citizen, set to the melody of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” The lyrics Bennet wrote poked fun of his birther flap from just a few months prior.
Even back then, Bennett declared that he was no birther – he was just investigating because citizens wanted him to investigate. Which echoes his involvement in the Senate’s audit of Maricopa County ballots.
Just as he did with Obama’s birth certificate, Bennett now claims he doesn’t think there was any problem with the election. But there could be. He just wants to make sure because people believe something is wrong, he says.
For that, The Washington Post editorial board, poked fun at Bennett with an editorial that said he was caving to a small fringe of the GOP that demanded the investigation.
“If one-fifteenth of 1 percent of Arizonans demanded that Ken Bennett, the state’s Republican secretary of state, go to work in the nude, would he comply? Not likely,” The Post wrote.
In between the Bennett of 2012 and the Bennett of 2021, he also dipped into the fringe Republican thinking on a couple of other occasions, but usually surrounding a political campaign.
Most notably, during his late bid to challenge Gov. Doug Ducey in the 2018 GOP primary, Bennett raised eyebrows when he announced his candidacy following the groundswell Red for Ed movement. It seemed like he was going to take a pro education approach to defeat a popular Republican at the time, but instead he ran from the right of Ducey and tried to appeal to fringe conservatives.
He was criticized by conservatives for his approach and even Republican columnist Phil Boas of The Arizona Republic penned a column on why Bennett needed to drop out.
Much of it surrounded a tweet from Bennett about how he would never appoint Cindy McCain to the U.S. Senate to replace her husband John, who at the time was battling cancer.
Bennett didn’t apologize at the time for his remarks and didn’t when talking to the Capitol Times in late-April.
Even though President Trump was feuding with the McCain family at the time, Bennett said he wasn’t trying to appeal to Trump’s base.
“I don’t think U.S. Senate seats are family heirlooms to be passed from one family member to another. It had nothing to do with any disrespect for John or Cindy,” he said.
And as for emulating Trump talking points, he said that’s not at all what he was doing. He feels the same way about the audit.
Both things, he told Capitol Times, have nothing to do with Trump.
Bennett said he would not have made some of the same decisions about the audit as Senate President Karen Fann made, but he wouldn’t get into specifics.
“I was Senate president 15 years ago. She made the choice of the contractor, I didn’t,” he said.
Chan said it’s a matter of credibility, which the people leading the audit lack.
Chan, with a coalition of other election officials in Arizona and nationally, has done her part to push back.
In one recent Twitter post she said it “never should have taken place [because] it was under false claims purposefully done to undermine the faith & confidence of the voters & nonvoters of this country. That’s what really bothers me. That it’s being done at all.”
She said she reached out to Bennett when she saw he was getting involved because she wanted him to know what she was thinking. She didn’t try to convince him otherwise, but just wanted to be heard by the man who she called a boss for four years.
“Anyone you care about who goes into something that you feel is a toxic situation I suppose you want to just say that to them [directly],” she said.
Her heart sank a little when he got involved.
“I hadn’t spoken with him about any of these issues, really, over the years and so I didn’t know where he stood on them. But also, I think my heart sank because I felt like I could just tell already what a mess this might turn out to be.”