PHOENIX - A House panel voted Thursday to make it a bit easier for current elected officials to get a head start on running for some other office.
The measure approved by the Judiciary Committee on a 5-2 vote would scrap the law requiring that any official who formally announces for a new office more than one year before the end of their term term must step down. The measure now goes to the full House.
HB 2157 would not totally alter the 1980 voter-approved "resign-to-run" law, which has forced out some elected officials.
It would leave in place the provision that prohibits officials from actually filing nomination papers for another office before the last year of their terms, preventing elected officials from running for a new job midterm but hanging on to their current offices just in case they're defeated.
"The moment that person files petitions, then they have to resign to run," said Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who crafted the measure. But Kavanagh said it makes no sense to prohibit formal declarations of candidacy.
"Under the current resign-to-run law, I can file an exploratory committee, I can file an actual (candidate) committee, I can raise money, I can go around and collect petition signatures," he said.
"I can't ... be truthful to the people and say, 'I'm running for this office,' " he said. "I have to couch that by saying, 'I'm thinking of running for this office.' "
Kavanagh said the distinction makes no sense.
Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, conceded there are loopholes candidates now use. But he voted against the legislation, saying it undermines what voters approved.
"If we do this, you'll have people who have a greater capacity to fund-raise now they're officially declaring," he said, saying it's harder to get people to donate to an "exploratory" campaign that may or may not get off the ground.
Quezada said Kavanagh should ask voters to alter or repeal the 1980 measure instead.
The law has claimed its share of politicians. In 1982, Pima County Supervisor Conrad Joyner and Tucson Councilman Roy Laos, both in the middle of their respective terms, launched congressional campaigns. Judges subsequently ruled both had violated the law, with Joyner quitting and Laos being forced out by court order.
Joyner challenged the law in federal court, calling it an unconstitutional state-imposed restriction on his ability to run for federal office. But the judges found the measure did not keep him from running.
"It merely requires that they not occupy a state office while seeking either a state or federal elective office," wrote Judge Joseph Sneed.
"At worst it imposes upon officeholders a loss of income and the possibility of being without public office," he continued. "These burdens are easily outweighed by the benefits of the Arizona provision."
During the 1980 campaign, proponents argued that voters were entitled to be sure their elected officials were paying full attention to the public's business, at least in the middle of their terms. Kavanagh dismissed those concerns, saying even the current law leaves politicians free to go out and campaign in the last year in office.
Anyway, he argued, if voters are so concerned about legislators being distracted they should make that position full time - with a full-time salary instead of $24,000 a year - so that lawmakers don't have to also pay attention to their regular jobs.