A quirk in state law could force top contenders to replace Trent Franks to choose between a run for Congress and keeping their current jobs in the Legislature.
Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to announce Monday the date for the primary election for those who want to vie for the now-open post in Congressional District 8. That can be between Feb. 26 and March 8.
But by law, the deadline to submit nominating petitions will be Jan. 10. And that’s what creates the dilemma for sitting lawmakers.
A 1980 voter-approved law says no current elected official can offer himself or herself for nomination to any local, state or federal office “except during the final year of the term being served.”
But here’s the thing: Unlike other elected officials who tenure runs through the end of the calendar year for which they are elected, legislators have terms that run through the second Monday in January of odd-numbered years. That’s when their successors take office.
For current lawmakers, that’s Jan. 14, 2019.
And what that likely means is any nominating petitions submitted before Jan. 14, 2018 would trigger the resign-to-run law, forcing incumbent legislators to decide whether they’re willing to give up their seats for the possibility of becoming the newest member of the Arizona congressional delegation.
The unexpected monkey wrench occurred when Franks moved up his resignation date.
Franks originally said on Thursday he would leave at the end of the January after admitting he has discussed with two now-former female staffers the possibility of becoming surrogates for he and his wife who has had trouble conceiving. Franks said while he had done nothing wrong he feared that an Ethics Committee investigation triggered by House Speaker Paul Ryan would result in “distorted and sensationalized versions of the story.”
On Friday, however, Franks decided to quit that day after he said his wife, Josephine, had been admitted the prior night to a hospital in Washington “due to an ongoing ailment.”
That resignation, effective at noon Washington time — 10 a.m. in Arizona — triggered the requirement for Gov. Doug Ducey to announce on Monday both the date for the primary and the Jan. 10 deadline to file petitions.
Among those considering a run are Sen. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park. He could be considered as having an inside edge — and the possible blessing of Franks — as he has been employed until now at Franks’ district office.
Montenegro had previously said he would wage a primary battle to oust incumbent Republican Secretary of State Michele Reagan.
“There’s a lot of prayer and thought going into this,” he told Capitol Media Services, declining to be more specific.
There was no immediate response from Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, on whether she intends to give up her announced bid for state treasurer and how the resign-to-run question might affect her decision.
Also looking at the open seat in the heavily Republican district is Rep. Darrin Mitchell, R-Goodyear, and Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria. Neither returned messages left for them.
If any or all of the incumbent lawmakers quit, that sets into motion a process where Maricopa County supervisors would have to name a replacement to fill out the unexpired legislative terms.
The peculiarity of legislative terms — and when they end — comes up from time to time.
For example, Pima County voters elected then-Rep. Arnold Jeffers as assessor in 1980.
But Jeffers could not be sworn in with other county officials at the beginning of January 1981 because of another state law which says legislators may not take any other public office or employment during the term for which they have been elected. He had to wait until the second Monday in January, when a new Legislature was sworn in, to take his position as assessor.
There also is no question but that the state resign-to-run law can be applied to candidates for federal office.
In 1982, Pima County Supervisor Conrad Joyner announced a bid for Congress despite the fact that his term as supervisor ran through 1984. He challenged the law, saying the state has no ability to keep people from running for federal office.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed — but only to the point that he could run despite the state law. The judges said, though, the state was free to decide that state and local officeholders forfeit their current office with such a candidacy.