DO WE NEED A LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR?DO WE NEED ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD? | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona
Navigation

DO WE NEED A LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR?DO WE NEED ANOTHER HOLE IN THE HEAD?

For years, the position of secretary of state was defined by the personality of Rose Mofford, who presided over the capitol's executive tower as the state's least controversial public official. The ceremonial queen of Arizona, Mofford decked the halls with kachina dolls, snipped ribbons with vigor and performed her obscure...
Share this:

For years, the position of secretary of state was defined by the personality of Rose Mofford, who presided over the capitol's executive tower as the state's least controversial public official. The ceremonial queen of Arizona, Mofford decked the halls with kachina dolls, snipped ribbons with vigor and performed her obscure official duties competently and in relative anonymity.

So it might have continued for another decade had not the 1988 impeachment and ouster of Evan Mecham interfered. Mofford, by state law the official successor to a deposed governor, was thrust into the limelight. Lots of people think she probably should have stayed with the kachinas.

The distance between the secretary's seventh-floor office and the governor's on the ninth floor has always been greater than the short elevator ride would suggest. To many lawmakers, Mofford's beleaguered governorship is an example of why the secretary of state ought not to take that trip--except on social calls.

So, who should be the governor in waiting? The secretary of state, who actually is the state's chief clerk? Or should Arizona elect a lieutenant governor? Naturally, it's a partisan issue.

"The problem, unfortunately, with Rose," Senator Jeff Hill, a Tucson Republican, says, "was that she had looked and acted like a secretary for such a long time that when she became governor, we found out she still thought like a secretary."

Hill thinks there should be an elected lieutenant governor, whose job is simply to be ready--and little else.

Both he and Mesa GOP Representative Leslie Whiting Johnson may reintroduce next session a constitutional amendment that would provide for a lieutenant governor. Similar measures, including one last year, have failed.

"The only reason we didn't have a `go' on a bill last session was because nobody wanted to offend Rose," one Senate leader anonymously explains.

The idea of a lieutenant governor is especially appealing on partisan grounds to state Republican party officials, who hold the majority of registered voters and desperately want to reclaim the governorship.

Other Republicans like it because they are bitter about Mofford, a Democrat, replacing Mecham, a Republican. Many feel the heir apparent should be a lieutenant of the same party as the governor. The voters chose a conservative in 1986, they say, and they should have at least gotten a conservative for four years.

Then there are people of both parties who fear that the candidates for secretary of state will always represent one of two undesirable extremes: either professional clerks unsuited for the governorship or political opportunists who view the office simply as a ladder to the top.

To avoid conflict between the governor and the lieutenant, Hill's plan would call for the duo to run as a ticket from the same party. Forty-three states have a lieutenant governor, and most run in tandem with the state's chief executive.

Opponents of Hill's plan include, not surprisingly, the two Democratic candidates for secretary of state.

"Why should we spend $5 to $7 million to establish a politician in waiting?" Richard Mahoney asks. "The secretary of state can be the lieutenant governor already."

Jim Shumway, who succeeded Mofford as secretary of state and is defending his new turf against Mahoney in the primary, also rejects the plan. "We're having the National Association of Secretaries of State convention in Flagstaff next year," he says with a laugh. "I don't think this would be the time to change. Seriously, this system has worked for 78 years. If it's not broke, don't fix it."

To an outside observer like Dana Larsen, director of the Arizona branch of the activist group Common Cause, the issue is not one of election reform, despite the Mecham-Mofford situation.

"Common Cause has never really dealt with it as a policy issue," he says, "because there never seemed to be a crying need for it.

"I've never heard a convincing argument that we need another salaried position, someone to sit around and collect dust until the governor dies."

The ceremonial queen of Arizona, Mofford decked the halls with kachina dolls.

The distance between the secretary's seventh-floor office and the governor's on the ninth floor is greater than the short elevator ride suggests.

BEFORE YOU GO...
Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.