Lieutenant governor issue resurfaces; may go to voters

PHOENIX -- Saying Arizona needs a better method of gubernatorial success, a House panel voted Thursday to ask voters to create the position of lieutenant governor.

Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, wants to scrap the current system where the secretary of state, elected separately from the governor, becomes the state's chief executive when the top person dies, quits or is thrown out of office.

The idea is not new. In fact, voters rejected a similar idea in 2010.

Mesnard insisted, though, this one is better because it actually would give the lieutenant governor something to do: head the state Department of Administration.

But HB 2252, approved by the Committee on Government and Higher Education on a 7-2 vote, also has something else.

It would essentially set up a system similar to what occurs at the federal level, with the person who is running for governor choosing his or her own running mate. And that means that there would be no separate ability of voters to choose who they want running the state if the governor goes away.

That happens in Arizona -- a lot.

"We've had everything from resignations to appointments to other things to impeachments to convictions for fraud to deaths of governors,' Mesnard said. "About every way a governor can leave office has happened in Arizona.'

He said the last governor to serve a full eight years was Bruce Babbitt who left office in 1986. But Babbitt himself first gained office after a resignation and a death.

Part of the concern is that issue of what amounts effectively to an unelected lieutenant governor. Mesnard said, though, it's not like voters won't get some say.

The procedure would require that each party's gubernatorial nominee name a running mate ahead of the election.

"Both appear on the ballot, so you do know the package you're getting,' Mesnard said.

And Mesnard said the current system of electing a successor independently has its own drawbacks. The biggest, he said, is that the new governor could be someone with an entirely different philosophy of governing, meaning a radical change in policy.

That occurred in 1988 when the Senate ejected Republican Evan Mecham from office after the House voted to impeach him. That elevated Democrat Rose Mofford to the top spot.

More recently, Democrat Janet Napolitano resigned in 2009 to take a job in the Obama administration, leaving Republican Jan Brewer in charge.

"It is a jarring change, especially when it's changing parties,' Mesnard said.

Similar measures, including one just last year, have failed to gain the necessary votes to proceed.

And even assuming this measure survives the legislative process, the voters would get the last word in November . That's because the change requires amending the Arizona Constitution.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

1948 -- Dan Garvey becomes governor on death of Sidney Osborn.

1977 -- Wesley Bolin becomes governor when Raul Castro resigns to become ambassador to Argentina.

1978 -- Attorney General Bruce Babbitt becomes governor on Bolin's death; Rose Mofford, who became secretary of state after Bolin became governor, could not take the post because she had been appointed. As an appointed -- not elected -- secretary of state, she was constitutionally ineligible to become governor, putting the attorney general next in line.

1988 -- Mofford, who subsequently won election as secretary of state on her own, becomes governor after impeachment and removal of Evan Mecham.

1997 -- Jane Hull becomes governor after Fife Symington quits following felony conviction. That conviction was later voided but did not entitle him to regain his office.

2009 -- Janet Napolitano quits to become Homeland Security chief in the Obama administration, making Jan Brewer the governor.

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