Intrigue spurs talk of renaming state's top post - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Intrigue spurs talk of renaming state's top post

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Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008 6:17 pm | Updated: 8:49 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

What's in a name? Possibly something as serious as who heads state government.

The possibility of Secretary of State Jan Brewer becoming governor if Janet Napolitano quits is renewing interest in proposals to rename the second-highest office in the state lieutenant governor.

Proponents, including Brewer, say that will help inform voters that this person could be governor, something that has happened five times before in Arizona history, four in the last 31 years. And that might make them pay more attention to the political views of that person.

Even Brewer, a Republican, conceded to Capitol Media Services that it is possible the 2002 election where she first took the job of secretary of state might have produced different results had the title of the office been something other than secretary of state.

The idea is getting some attention from a few Democrats who have routinely opposed nearly a dozen prior proposals.

In fact, Rep. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said Arizona should go a step further: She wants the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a ticket, the same as the president and vice president. That, Lopez said, would ensure that people pay attention to who they are choosing not only for governor but for a possible future governor.

Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, who has pushed the issue before, unsuccessfully, said he's not sure it needs to go that far.

But Huppenthal said just renaming the office would change the nature of the election. That's because voters will be asking candidates a lot more questions about a lot more things than the current duties of the secretary of state.

"The questions are going to shift from (running) elections to education, transportation and the economy," Huppenthal said.

"Those are going to be what they want to hear about," he said of voters. "They want to hear about what this person's going to do when they become governor."

Changes in governor can mean radical changes in state policy.

When Republican Evan Mecham was impeached and convicted in 1988, the job went to Secretary of State Rose Mofford, a Democrat. The change that took place in 1997, after Republican Fife Symington resigned following his criminal conviction on fraud charges, was less pronounced as his replacement was Republican Jane Hull.

If Democrat Napolitano takes a position in the Cabinet of President-elect Barack Obama, the job goes to Republican Brewer. Her record of 14 years as a state legislator shows a very different philosophy of government than Napolitano.

"The voters in Arizona elected a governor that was pretty much center to the left," said Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. Now, he said, the entire ideology of the office "is going to change dramatically" despite the intent of voters in picking Napolitano in 2002 and re-electing her four years later.

Gallardo said he doubts that Arizona voters, who elected Brewer those same years, screened her philosophy of government the same way they did Napolitano.

Israel Torres said he knows that's the case. Torres, Brewer's Democratic foe in 2006, said he did get some questions - often from newspaper editorial boards - about his philosophy of issues above and beyond the specific duties of the secretary of state.

"Now, granted, they were easy to deflect," he said. "It was easy to say, 'Well, the secretary of state doesn't really deal with abortion' or 'the secretary of state doesn't deal with the criminal justice system or with the education system or with water.'"

Torres said there "could have been more scrutiny" of the candidates on those issues given the chance that the winner could become governor.

But Sen. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said she sees no reason to make a change. She said there already is voter awareness and discussion during each campaign of whether the secretary of state would be ready to assume the role of governor. McCune Davis also noted voters rejected a proposal in 1994 to have the governor and lieutenant governor run as a ticket.

The veteran lawmaker also suggested that there might actually be some benefit to the Democrats if Brewer takes over.

Napolitano has built up a record number of vetoes of bills approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature on issues including abortion, gun control and permanent elimination of the state's currently suspended property tax. McCune Davis said if those kinds of bills could become law under Brewer it will help educate voters about what is going on at the Capitol.

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