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Kyl resigning from Senate on Dec. 31; Ducey to appoint again

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, appointed to fill the seat of the late Sen. John McCain in September, will leave office at the end of the year, and Gov. Doug Ducey will again appoint a Republican to the Senate.

Kyl was announced as the replacement for McCain by Ducey two days after McCain was laid to rest, but would agree to only serve for a short period. Thursday, the two-time senator informed the governor that he will resign the night of Dec. 31.

"Thank you for appointing me to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy created by John McCain's death," Kyl wrote in a letter dated Wednesday. "It has been an honor and a privilege to again serve the people of Arizona."

"When I accepted your appointment, I agreed to complete the work of the 115th Congress and then reevaluate continuing to serve," he wrote. "I have concluded that it would be best if I resign so that your new appointee can begin the new term with all other Senators in January 2019 and can serve a full two (potentially four) years. Therefore, I will resign from the U.S. Senate effective 11:59 p.m. EST December 31, 2018."

Ducey praised Kyl in a statement, saying, "Senator Kyl didn’t need to return to the Senate."

"His legacy as one of Arizona’s most influential and important political figures was already without question. But he did return, and I remain deeply grateful for his willingness to step up and serve again when Arizona needed him. I wish him and his family all the best," the governor wrote.

Ducey has been tight-lipped about who might replace Kyl for the next two years of the term. Martha McSally, the Southern Arizona congresswoman who narrowly lost a bid for the Senate in November, had been widely mooted as a potential appointee if she failed to be elected, but a CYA, blame-everyone-else post-election memo by her campaign seems to have taken the wind from beneath her political wings.

Other potential appointees include Ducey's former chief of staff, Kirk Adams, and state Treasurer (and former member of the Board of Regents) Eileen Klein.

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Adams was one of the names floated as a possible appointment after McCain's death, and his move out of the governor's office — which was set for Friday — could be a sign that he's at the top of the list now.

Adams, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2012, sent Ducey his letter of resignation on Nov. 12, saying that he had "no specific plans in place for what comes next for me."

"I have determined over the course of the last many weeks that the time has come for me to move on, regardless (of) the outcome of the elections," Adams wrote to the governor. "There is no specific event or issue that brought me to this conclusion, and I have no complaints. I have only a gut feeling that now is the time."

Adams told Ducey that "I feel that my skills and abilities are at their peak and I hope to put them to beneficial use.... I have plenty of gas left in the tank."

Adams told reporter Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services that he's not angling for the appointment, and doesn't plan to resume his work for Koch Brothers-funded conservative lobbying groups. But he wouldn't offer any specifics about his plans.

Kyl, 76, served in the Senate from 1995 through his retirement after the 2012 election, becoming the second-highest ranking Republican senator, the minority whip.

He said he would serve "at least" through the end of the year, Ducey's office said in September.

Kyl, 76, agreed only to finish out the current session of Congress, which ends Jan. 3. Ducey had said he hoped Kyl would stay for the entire term, which ends in 2020.

Kyl's short-term commitment provides political options for the Republicans. If Rep. Martha McSally loses to Rep. Krysten Sinema in her November bid to move up to the Senate chamber, Ducey could appoint McSally to McCain's seat. In fact, if Ducey loses his reelection bid to Democratic candidate David Garcia, he could appoint himself to the Senate seat in the period between the election and leaving the governor's office.

Under Arizona law, Ducey was required to appoint a replacement for McCain, who died Aug. 25. The new senator was required to be a member of the same party — a Republican. Because the seat became vacant after the end of March, the appointment is good through the 2020 election cycle. That year, a new senator will be elected to serve through the balance of McCain's term. He was elected in 2016 to serve through 2022.

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With Kyl stepping down after the end of this congressional session, Ducey will be required to appoint a second replacement.

While most political experts called it a smart move by Ducey, some also raised concerns about the uncertainty of how long Kyl would hold the office.

“I think it’s ridiculous to have a temporary senator for only three to four months,” said Bill Scheel, a political consultant with Javelina, a Phoenix marketing and advocacy firm, at the time of Kyl's appointment. “If you’re not able or willing to commit to a full two years, you should have declined.”

Still others saw the short-term appointment as one intended to get Ducey past this fall’s elections by choosing an experienced senator with appeal among conservatives of all kinds.

Kyle Kondik, political analyst and managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said it “was probably wise of Ducey to make a non-controversial choice” before the election

“It’s a way to kick the can down the road and not have the Senate be a real factor in the upcoming election,” he said. “It keeps his options open for another appointment later next year because he picked someone who doesn’t want to be there long-term, and it probably insulates him from any real criticism in the short-term as he tries to win re-election.”

Speaking in September, Javelina CEO Catherine Alonzo called it “a very safe bet from Ducey.”

“This might just be a stopgap to get Ducey through the election,” Alonzo said.

Nathan Gonzales, editor of the newsletter Inside Elections, called Kyl’s appointment “the least dramatic appointment the governor could have made.”

“Whether it’s for the governor himself, or for the Republican Party, and even the McCain family,” Gonzales said, “it appears to have been a ‘do no harm’ appointment.”

Kyl served four terms in the House, from 1986-1994, before being elected to the first of three terms in the Senate.

Kyl was elected to the Senate in 1994, beating Sam Coppersmith, when Democrat Dennis DeConcini didn't run for a fourth term. He didn't face a Democrat in the 2000 election, and defeated Jim Pedersen, then the state Democratic Party chairman, by 10 points in his last election.

He left the Senate in 2013, and was succeeded by Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona.

In addition to working as a high-powered lobbyist for Washington law firm Covington and Burling since then, Kyl has held a number of positions at Arizona State University, including a distinguished fellow in public service in ASU’s College of Public Programs and an O’Connor Distinguished Scholar of Law and Public Service in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Cronkite News reporter Chris McCrory contributed to this report.

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Celisse Jones/Cronkite News

Jon Kyl, who served in the Senate from 1995 to 2013, was chosen Tuesday by Gov. Doug Ducey to succeed the late Sen. John McCain.