When Janet Napolitano decided in January 2009 she’d rather work for Barack Obama than finish out her term as Arizona governor, it created a political tsunami of sorts.
This left-leaning Democratic governor who had vetoed a host of priorities of the Republican-controlled Legislature, elected twice, was being replaced by Jan Brewer, a conservative Republican who, while a veteran politician, had been chosen by Arizona voters solely to be the secretary of state.
And if there was any question whether the tide had shifted, all that was resolved when Brewer signed the state’s tough new immigration law, a law that contained several provisions Napolitano had previously vetoed.
Even those who liked that shift, though, started talking about renewing the call to at least rename the post “lieutenant governor’’ to better give voters the idea that whoever they elect is the proverbial heartbeat from being the state’s chief executive.
But lawmakers, in voting to put the issue on the November ballot, did not simply seek to change the title. They also want to alter how this person runs for office and gets elected.
And that is creating some opposition.
Central to Proposition 111 is the fact that Arizona has a history of governors not completing their terms.
Raul Castro became ambassador to Argentina in 1977, elevating Secretary of State Wes Bolin.
But when Bolin died less than a year later, Rose Mofford could not take his place because she had been appointed. That meant Attorney General Bruce Babbitt took over.
All these changes, however, still left the governor’s office in Democratic hands.
A decade later, Republican Evan Mecham was impeached and convicted. Democrat Mofford, now elected in her own right, became governor.
Fife Symington couldn’t complete his second term after his federal fraud conviction, making fellow Republican Jane Hull the state’s chief executive.
And then there was Napolitano.
As crafted, Proposition 111 would have those who want to be governor and lieutenant governor run on their own in their respective party primaries. The top vote getters for each office from each party then would run as a ticket in the general election, with voters casting a single ballot for each.
The measure is being pushed by the O’Connor House Project, a group of civic, political and business leaders, who have come up with various ideas for altering government. Michael Bidwill, chairman of what is now operating under the banner of Government for Arizona’s 2nd Century, wrote in a statement of support that the change will give voters “a clear understanding of our state’s executive line of succession.’’
But Phoenix attorney Thomas Haney said he finds several problems with the plan.
At the very least, Haney said once the office gets a new title, all the routine duties, like registering notaries public and even running elections, would be spun off to other agencies — something the Legislature would be free to do — making the lieutenant governor “another potentate to parade before the press and the public.’’
Kevin Rogers, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, had a more practical reason for his organization’s opposition. He said there is no provision for how an independent candidate for governor could run since there would be no corresponding person to be part of the ticket.
Former state Sen. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, who supports the change, said that probably could be fixed with legislation if the measure passes. But lawmakers may be unable to deal with what happens if a minor party found itself in the same position of having a gubernatorial hopeful but no one running for the No. 2 slot.
A similar measure went to voters in 1994 and was defeated.