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Lawmaker seeks to create office of lieutenant governor in Arizona

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PHOENIX – Given Arizona’s history of turnover in the governor’s office, the state would benefit from having a lieutenant governor who runs on the same ticket, a state lawmaker says.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has introduced two pieces of legislation to create the office, to require a party’s candidates for lieutenant governor and governor to run as a team and to put the lieutenant governor first in the line of succession. Some of the proposed changes would require approval by Arizona voters.

Mesnard said having the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket would be helpful for voters because it would mirror the way the president and vice president are elected. He said many voters don’t realize that the secretary of state is the next in line for the governor’s office.

“The voters wanted a particular vision in the governor’s office when they supported the governor and don’t intend that to change,” Mesnard said at a Feb. 9 House Elections Committee hearing. “I think many people don’t fully grasp that the secretary of state is the one who takes over”

Both pieces of legislation were awaiting votes by the full House that would send them to the Senate.

Four secretaries of state and one attorney general have assumed the governor’s office since 1977. The most recent was 2009, when Republican Jan Brewer stepped in when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano left to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Arizona is one of five states without an office of lieutenant governor. Forty-three states directly elect lieutenant governors, and two delegate that responsibility to the president of the state Senate.

Arizonans rejected a 2010 ballot proposal that would renamed the office of secretary of state to lieutenant governor but kept the duties the same. Under that proposal, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor wouldn’t have had to run on the same ticket.

Under Mesnard’s HB 2265, the lieutenant governor would become the director of the Arizona Department of Administration, which provides administrative and operational support to state government.

Mesnard said providing the office with that duty would address concerns raised in the past that a lieutenant governor’s job would be little more than being ready to become governor. In addition, he said, a lieutenant governor would be available to work closely with the governor in a way that the secretary of state can’t.

“We give them responsibilities that plug them into the executive branch, such that if they ever do ascend into the governorship, they have some knowledge,” Mesnard said. “The secretary of state office – very important office, but it has to do with elections and record-keeping. It is rather narrow.”

HCR 2024 by Mesnard would have voters decide whether to create the office and put it next in line should the governor’s office become vacant.

Kristin Borns, an independent policy analyst at Borns Solutions AZ, said some voters were concerned in 2010 about the lieutenant governor taking over the secretary of state’s duties in overseeing elections and also having ties to the governor’s office, even though the two would not be running on the same ticket.

Borns said because voters also endorse a candidate’s agenda when they vote, having the lieutenant governor and governor run on the same ticket could help with continuity by placing a person with the same agenda into office if the governor resigns or leaves office for another reason.

“Voters can be more comfortable if they have a lieutenant governor on the exact same ticket as the governor … the lieutenant governor theoretically is going to work on the same policies the governor indicated he or she was going to put into effect when they took office,” Borns said.

Having the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket could also prevent a change in party control of the governor’s office. That happened in 2009 when Brewer replaced Napolitano and in 1988 when Rose Mofford, a Democrat, replaced the impeached Evan Mecham, a Republican.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, voted against both bills in the House Elections Committee.

“I’m not convinced that we need this or that the public wants this,” she said in explaining one of those votes.