Sen. Al Melvin

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PHOENIX - Three-term state Sen. Al Melvin announced Monday he intends to run for governor this coming year.

The Republican, whose district extends from Oro Valley in Pima County through part of Casa Grande into the Pinal County community of Maricopa, said his campaign will focus largely on two issues: school vouchers and limits on jury verdicts. He said they will improve education and improve the business climate.

Both appear to run directly afoul of the Arizona Constitution.

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that if lawmakers want a voucher program they need voter approval.

On limiting jury verdicts, there have been three separate statewide votes to repeal or alter constitutional provisions barring lawmakers from putting a cap on awards in civil lawsuits. All three were rejected.

Melvin conceded the constitutional bar. "Politics is education," he said, saying he plans to explain to voters the need for both changes - even as he makes what he acknowledged is a bit of a dark-horse bid for the state's highest office.

Melvin, 68, who lives in SaddleBrooke, retired as a captain from the Navy Reserve and also served in the Merchant Marine.

The senator said he will address his lack of name identification and funding for a statewide race by running with public dollars.

He said he is relying on a core base of supporters to each donate $5. If he gets the necessary 4,500 donations he will qualify for $753,616 from the Citizens Clean Elections Commission in an increasingly crowded 2014 Republican primary.

Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman already have exploratory committees. Others looking at the race include state Treasurer Doug Ducey and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith.

And that does not even consider the possibility that an incumbent Jan Brewer will be a factor. She has not made an announcement. But Brewer got an attorney to prepare a memo saying she is entitled to seek another full four-year term, despite a constitutional limit of two terms, because her first two years, 2009 and 2010, simply filled out the term of her predecessor, Janet Napolitano.

Melvin said he will run even if Brewer does, using the opportunity to criticize her plan to expand the state's Medicaid program as part of the federal Affordable Care Act.

Officially, Melvin is only "exploring" a gubernatorial bid, as elected officials cannot formally announce for another office before the last year of their term. But he made it clear he will make the campaign official in January.

Melvin's education plan is built around giving every parent a voucher for $9,000 - close to what the state now provides to public schools - which could be used to pay tuition at any public, private or parochial school, to give parents maximum choice.

The jury verdict proposal mirrors a Texas law that caps non-economic damages for things like loss of a loved one, and pain and suffering at $250,000. "When Texas did that, lawyers started leaving the state, doctors started arriving and business flourished," Melvin said.

Melvin is no stranger to controversial issues. He has pushed, for example, to make Arizona the national repository for nuclear waste processing and burial.