At first blush, much of Proposition 111 may seem like semantics. If passed, it will change the title of secretary of state in Arizona to that of lieutenant governor, although the duties of the position remain exactly the same.
So why bother?
For one, many voters simply don’t realize that the secretary of state is first in line to succeed the governor and, as such, is the second highest chief executive office in the state. A change in title would help emphasize that.
Given our colorful history of governors in Arizona, it’s not a bad idea. On five occasions, someone has been elevated to the position of governor:
• Wesley Bolin in 1977 (replaced Raul Castro, who left to become U.S. ambassador to Argentina).
• Bruce Babbitt in 1978 (after Bolin died).
• Rose Mofford in 1988 (Evan Mecham impeached).
• Jane Hull in 1997 (Fife Symington resigned).
• And Jan Brewer in 2009 (Janet Napolitano left to become secretary of homeland security).
Babbitt was the attorney general before succeeding Bolin. The secretary of state at the time (Mofford) was not eligible to become governor because she had been appointed, not elected, to replace Bolin as secretary of state.
The pecking order for governor succession in Arizona is 1) secretary of state, 2) attorney general, 3) state treasurer, and 4) state superintendant of public instruction.
Is a secretary of state, whose primary responsibility is to oversee elections, really qualified to be next in line for governor? No, but neither are the other positions mentioned above. None are policy-making roles in government.
Another option would be the Speaker of the House — a position that, at the federal level, is second in line for the presidency. But at the state level, do you really want a potential governor who was elected as a state legislator by a small group of voters in one city’s district? At least the state offices are voted on by residents of the entire state.
Forty-five states already have the office of lieutenant governor (Arizona, Oregon and Wyoming have a secretary of state who is next in line; in New Hampshire and Maine, the senate president succeeds the governor). Of those 45 states, some have a separate lieutenant governor; two (Tennessee and West Virginia) give the senate president the dual title of lieutenant governor; and others incorporate the duties of secretary of state into the office of lieutenant governor, as Prop. 111 proposes.
There is another aspect of Prop. 111 that does invoke significant change. Although candidates for governor and lieutenant governor will run separately during the primary, they will be grouped together during the general election on a single-party ticket, with one vote filling both positions. The idea is that if you’re voting for a governor from one party, it ensures that the person next in line is from the same party. Twice in Arizona, a secretary of state from a different party has succeeded a governor from the opposite party (Mofford and Brewer).
However, by putting the candidates together on one ticket, it pretty much eliminates any chance for a Libertarian, Green Party or independent candidate for secretary of state to gain office, as the governor’s office is historically filled by one of the major parties.
Regardless of how you feel about that aspect, or Proposition 111 in general, remember one thing: As you look at the candidates for secretary of state (Ken Bennett and Chris Deschene) on Nov. 2, remember that you’re not just looking at their qualifications to oversee the election process. One of them could wind up being your next governor.