The Arizona Constitution prohibits state Rep. Karen Johnson from challenging Keno Hawker for mayor in Mesa next year, even if she resigns her House seat, the state Attorney General’s Office said Friday.
On Thursday, Johnson, a Republican from Mesa, told the Tribune she is forming an exploratory committee to gauge support for challenging Hawker in the March 9 election. But based on two attorney general opinions, it would be unconstitutional for Johnson to run for mayor in 2004, said Diana Jennings, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Terry Goddard.
"Even if you resign from the Legislature, you can’t run for any other elected office, whether it’s the county or the city," Jennings said. "The only exception would be for a school board."
Johnson, who represents legislative District 18, said Friday her lawyers are researching the issue. She vowed to challenge the legal opinions in court if possible.
"It’s going to take a lot more than this to make me change my mind," Johnson said, adding that she would decide Tuesday. "I would not want to pull out of this until I’m sure there’s no other recourse."
Johnson said more than 50 people called in support Friday.
The citation at issue in the Arizona Constitution is Article 4, Section 2, Section 5. It states:
"No member of the legislature, during the term for which he shall have been elected or appointed shall be eligible to hold any other office or be otherwise employed by the state of Arizona or, any county or incorporated city or town thereof. This prohibition shall not extend to the office of school trustee, nor to employment as a teacher or instructor in the public school system."
Based on the attorney general opinions, Johnson can resign anytime but still cannot run for mayor until her legislative term ends in early 2005.
"It’s chilling to think we have that kind of law here in Arizona," said Kirk Adams, the District 19 Republican Committee chairman and supporter of Johnson. He said the law restricts Johnson’s freedom of speech.
Former House Speaker Jeff Groscost of Mesa, the District 18 Republican Committee chairman, said the provision could be ripe for a challenge. "We’ve got some folks seriously taking a look at and handicapping the odds of winning a federal challenge to this.’’