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Posted Sep 29, 2010, 9:23 pm
Four years ago, few Arizonans would have supported a Janet Napolitano/Jan Brewer ticket.
But under the state's current succession plan, Brewer, the Republican secretary of state, replaced the departing Democratic governor in 2009, dramatically shifting political power at the state level.
That would change if supporters of Proposition 111 have their way.
The ballot initiative would rename the office of secretary of state as lieutenant governor and force a party's nominee for that office to run on a ticket with the party's gubernatorial nominee.
The office's duties, including election oversight, would not change under the proposal.
Four times since the 1970s Arizonans have elected governors who left office for various reasons and were replaced by secretaries of state. In two of those cases it meant a governor from a different party.
Opponents say the proposed seemingly minor change is a strategic move by the major parties to ensure a cycle of incumbency for the party in power.
"It favors the two-party system by creating a scenario that encourages governors in their second term to take a better job, vacate the office and introduce the successor so the party has a incumbent for the next election," said Larry Gist, the Green Party candidate for governor.
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"For an up-and-coming party such as the Green or other parties in the future, it would be a huge hindrance," he said.
Barry Hess, the Libertarian Party's gubernatorial candidate, says the measure is designed to keep third parties out of the equation, with the goal of maintaining the status quo.
"It looks pretty harmless at first blush, but it leaves the door open for too much chicanery, and you can't trust the Legislature to work it out in the statutes," Hess said. "So much of it is hidden in the language."
Some opponents have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the initiative's language, saying it excludes independents from running because they do not have their own primary.
Twenty-five states have candidates come together on the same ticket in the general election, but how they get on the ticket varies.
Jonathan Paton, a former state lawmaker and current co-chair of the campaign to pass the ballot measure, disagrees. Paton, a Republican who first proposed the legislation, said the language does not conflict with existing state policy regarding independents.
"The Constitution of our state has made it pretty clear that you can't preclude them from running," Paton said.
He added that the Constitution is not designed to spell out every little thing. Any concerns about the possible exclusion of independents could be addressed in state law should the proposition pass.
Other opponents point out that the secretary of state is the state's chief election official and say those duties should not be put into the hands of a lieutenant governor, who could gain from an election's outcome.
State Rep. Chris Deschene, D-Window Rock, who is the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, says the proposition would create a conflict of interest by making the position a political one. His campaign manager, Sean Bowie, said Deschene wants the position to be as apolitical as possible.
"This is a terribly worded, misguided proposition," Bowie said. "People say on paper it's just a name change, but a lieutenant governor potentially can influence a race's outcome."
Current Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who is seeking a full term in the office, has not taken a position on this proposition – or any other.
Northern Arizona University political scientist Fred Solop said he shares concerns about putting the control of elections in the governor's office.
"You want independence in oversight," Solop said. "It's a blurring of authority and we're violating a core democratic principle of independent oversight of election conflicts."
According to the National Lieutenant Governors Association, 42 states and four U.S. territories have lieutenant governors as successors to their governors. Of those, only New Jersey, Utah and Alaska have an elected lieutenant governor with secretary of state responsibilities.
But Solop said he is not concerned about independents being frozen out of the governor's race, believing courts would step in.
"I think independents would be identified as something similar to a party and would be allowed to participate," Solop said.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected a somewhat similar ballot measure in 1994. That proposition would have created a lieutenant governor post without specific duties and would have had candidates run on a ticket with their parties' gubernatorial nominees.
State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, one of only nine representatives to vote against this year's legislation, said the secretary of state should not be an elected official but rather a career professional civil servant, appointed by merit.
"We should have an elected, real lieutenant governor who would assist the governor particularly as a legislative liaison, act as a ceremonial fill-in and check the pulse of the governor every morning," Kavanagh said. "And then everyone gets what they think is right."
Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot, Paton's co-chair with the effort supporting Proposition 111, noted that noted that elected officials in counties supervise elections.
"Elected officials are going to be more accountable than appointed officials," he said. "Decades ago, we in Arizona made that decision."