Another Push To Elect A Lieutenant Governor In Arizona Passes Committee

By Claire Caulfield
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Friday, February 15, 2019 - 10:22am
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2019 - 12:42pm

Arizona voters could get yet another chance to create a new position of lieutenant governor.

Senate Continuing Resolution 1008, approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would put the question of a new state official on the 2020 ballot. If approved, the new system would take effect with the 2026 election.

Voters rejected the idea in 1994 and again in 2010.

But Sen. J.D. Mesnard (R-Chandler) said this new proposal is vastly improved.

The way he sees it, the problem with the current system is that when the governor person dies, quits or otherwise leaves office, he or she is replaced by the secretary of state. But Mesnard, who has been pushing the concept now for years, said he doubts that most Arizonans know that is the line of succession.

And then there's the fact that the current system can mean a change in political control.

That happened in 1988 after Republican Evan Mecham was impeached and convicted. That elevated Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat, to the top spot.

It's also worked the other way, with Republican Jan Brewer replacing Democrat Janet Napolitano after she quit in 2009 to take a job in the Obama administration.

But Mesnard told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that this isn't a political thing.

He pointed out that he proposed the idea even before Democrat Katie Hobbs was elected secretary of state last year. And Mesnard crafted the plan with a delayed effective date — two elections from now — so that it would not and could not affect Hobbs who by that time would have served the maximum two terms in office.

Mesnard told colleagues that voters rejected the two prior efforts because they were flawed.

One, he said, simply created the post of lieutenant governor with nothing for that person to do, other than collect a salary of state tax dollars and wait to become governor.

The other would have created a convoluted system of having separate primaries for governor and lieutenant governor.

This ballot measure and the companion Senate Bill 1234 to implement it, he said, solves both.

First, the lieutenant governor would assume the role as director of the Department of Administration, the state agency in charge of the basic operations of government like personnel and offices. Mesnard said that role actually could help train and prepare the lieutenant governor to take over.

And the move actually could save taxpayer money: The last agency director made $215,000; it is unlikely that lawmakers would set the salary for the lieutenant governor any higher than the $95,000 paid to the governor.

Second, Mesnard has crafted his plan to mirror the federal system.

As he envisions it, each party would choose its own gubernatorial nominee. Then, after the primary, the nominee would choose a running mate, with the pair on the ballot as a ticket.

Mesnard figures that process ensures that voters know not only who is at the top of the ticket but who would be next in line if it came to that. And, of course, it also would mean that when a governor left office before a term ends, the successor would be of the same political party.

The plan has other parallels with the federal system.

If the lieutenant governor left office, the governor could appoint a replacement, but only with the consent of the majority of both the House and Senate.

And if there were a vacancy in both the positions of governor and lieutenant governor, then the existing line of succession would kick in, meaning secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction.

Sen. Martin Quezad (D-Glendale) said he agrees with some aspects of what Mesnard is proposing. But Quezada said he's not convinced that the Department of Administration should be headed by a politician who was chosen by the gubernatorial candidate to be part of a ticket.

According to the National Association of Lieutenant Governors 26 states already have this kind of system where the governor and lieutenant governor are elected on the same ticket. Another 17 have the position of lieutenant governor who has to win office on his or her own.

The association reports that Arizona is one of only three states where the secretary of state, elected independent of the governor, is next in the line of succession. And four other states have a system where the presiding officer of the state senate takes over if the governor leaves office.

The next hurdle for the Mesnard plan is consideration by the full Senate. If it gets approved there and in the House of Representatives the voters would get the last word in 2020.

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