FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Arizona is one of a handful of states that do not have a lieutenant governor, but that could change if voters approve a proposition on the November ballot.
Proposition 111 seeks to change the title of the secretary of state to lieutenant governor, making it more clear to voters who succeeds the governor in the event of a midterm vacancy but not changing any of the historical duties.
The proposition was proposed by the O'Connor House Project, a yearlong effort led by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to change how the state's government is organized and runs. The Legislature referred it to the ballot.
If successful, candidates for lieutenant governor and governor could be running separate campaigns for the primary election, then be joined as a ticket for the general election. What would become of third-party candidates who are successful in the primary but have no ticket to join in the general is unclear.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett said legislators would have four years to work out the details if the proposition is successful.
"I know the intent is not to disenfranchise anyone," he said. "And it would be found completely unconstitutional if it were done in a way that did disadvantage any candidate or group of candidates."
Supporters say the change would create "truth in advertising," and ensure continuity in political platforms.
"We think that by installing the position of lieutenant governor, it just leaves no doubt in voters' minds what the chain of succession is in state government," said Garrick Taylor, a spokesman for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Numerous Arizona secretaries of state have become governors with the death, resignation or removal of governors. The most recent example is the elevation of Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano resigned.
Critics, including Democratic secretary of state nominee Chris Deschene said the proposition could create problems when a lieutenant governor is overseeing the election of his or her boss in a successive term.
"Unless you describe clearly the law in a way that separates the conflicts of interests especially in close races, now we've opened more issues as to the transparency, the openness, the nonpartiality of a particular election," he said.
Bennett said he is not taking a position on the proposition.
The idea of establishing a lieutenant governor in Arizona isn't new. The issue went before voters in 1994, but it was rejected, according to Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona political science professor, said the economic impact and the duties of the lieutenant governor beyond serving as the state's chief elections officer are unclear in Proposition 111. Arizonans want to know what they're voting for, he said, and that it's something that matters.
"This issue is more esoteric," he said. "It's more about the organization of the government. It's a solution but we don't quite know what the problem is. Voters are going to be concerned. They're not going to jump for this."