PHOENIX — Sitting state lawmakers are free to run for the congressional seat vacated by Trent Franks without having to quit their current job — at least according to an attorney paid by state lawmakers.
Ken Behringer, general counsel of the Legislative Council, the legal arm of the Legislature, acknowledged that the Arizona Constitution says lawmakers convene each year on the second Monday in January. For 2019, that means Jan. 14.
What makes that significant is Arizona law says elected officials who run for any other office forfeit their current one if it’s not in the last year of their current term.
The deadline to file for Franks’ Congressional District 8 seat is Jan. 10.
But Behringer, who was asked to look at the issue by legislative leaders, dismissed the contention that the Jan. 14 start date of the new Legislature means anyone who files for Franks’ office before then has to resign.
He contends that the second Monday reference in the Arizona Constitution refers only to when lawmakers meet. Behringer said he reads another section of the document to say that the terms actually start the first Monday in January — giving congressional hopefuls enough time to meet the filing deadline to run for Congress without triggering the resign-to-run law.
Ultimately, though, what Behringer thinks does not matter.
Under Arizona law, the only person who can seek to have an elected official declared holding office illegally — whether for resign-to-run violations or anything else — is Attorney General Mark Brnovich. And as of late Thursday, he had yet to weigh in.
Current state Sen. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, is not taking any chances. He already said he will quit Friday, Dec. 15, to run for the open congressional seat.
Fellow state Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who said she hasn’t yet made a formal decision about running for Congress, said if she does make a bid she will announce at that time if she will try to keep her Senate seat for the session. Also yet to decide whether to run for Congress are Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, Rep. Tony Riveo, R-Peoria, and Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Goodyear.
The unexpected vacancy follows Franks’ resignation last Friday after he admitted that he talked with female staffers about becoming a surrogate mother, reportedly offering $5 million for the service.
With congressional seats opening up infrequently, the vacancy has attracted more than a dozen Republicans as well as several Democrats. The special primary election is set for Feb. 27, with the general election on April 24.