Saying he gets criticized no matter what, Secretary of State Ken Bennett is abandoning his 2-year-old pledge not to endorse any candidates for office.
Bennett, when running for office in 2010, said it’s “not appropriate” for someone who wants to be the state’s chief election official to support any candidate or back any ballot measure. Speaking during a political debate on Arizona Illustrated, a public affairs program on KUAT-TV, Bennett said that makes sense because the secretary of state is “going to have to conduct the election.”
This year, however, he is co-chair of the presidential bid by Republican Mitt Romney. And Bennett acknowledged that is a change in his personal policy.
But Bennett told Capitol Media Services on Monday there’s nothing improper about it.
“I am allowed like everyone else to have my personal opinions,” he said.
Bennett said his personal beliefs will not make a difference.
“Most of the processes and procedures we have here at the Secretary of State’s Office don’t involve me personally,” he said. Bennett said all the paperwork is handled by election workers.
“We don’t treat anybody any different, even if it’s my own paperwork,” he said.
But Bennett stepped in the middle of the presidential fray personally with his decision to seek certification from Hawaii that the state has a birth certificate on file for Barack Obama.
Bennett said he was only responding to a request by a constituent. And he said he is not playing favorites.
“I’ve got people now asking me to do the same thing, to verify Romney in Michigan, as I did in Hawaii,” he said. “And if Michigan has a similar mechanism to do that, I’ll do that, too.”
That “mechanism” according to Bennett is a Hawaii law which allows an official in any other state to seek certification that a specific document exists. Bennett emphasized that he is not seeking a certified copy of the actual birth certificate.
Bennett said he spoke late Friday with officials from that state’s health department as well as the attorney general’s office, providing assurances that his request fits within Hawaii law. Bennett said he now hopes to have an answer within days.
As to that change of heart on endorsements, Bennett said his experiences in the 2010 race made him believe “I was going to get beat up, whether I made endorsements or not.”
He had been Senate president before leaving that post in 2008. Back in private life, he did make endorsements.
But in 2009, Jan Brewer picked him to succeed her as secretary of state after she became governor after Janet Napolitano quit to become homeland security chief in the Obama administration. Bennett said his political foes seized on those prior endorsements as proof he could not run an unbiased office.