PHOENIX — Republicans are lining up to vie for the seat in Congress vacated Friday by Trent Franks.
A special election will decide who fills out the remainder of the term, through the end of 2018. Franks, a Republican, resigned Friday ahead of a House Ethics Committee investigation into complaints against him of sexual harassment.
Former legislator and utility regulator Bob Stump was first out of the gate, barely waiting until after Gov. Doug Ducey formally set the special primary election for Feb. 27 and the general election for April 24.
Stump immediately sought to claim the anti-Washington cloak, saying his agenda includes “uprooting an entrenched ‘deep state’ which thwarts conservative reforms and subverts our democratic institutions.”
State Sen. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, was not far behind in his announcement, claiming the blessing of the now-former congressman.
“He asked me to run for his seat to continue the fight to restore the republic, and to look after the people of Arizona’s 8th Congressional District,” said Montenegro, who worked for Franks at his local district office.
Montenegro said he believes he can continue the work that Franks was doing in Congress to rebuild the military and balance the budget.
He said he does not believe that the allegations against Franks of improper conduct, which ultimately forced the eight-term congressman to resign, take anything away from that endorsement.
“Trent has apologized for what he did, for what happened,” Montenegro said of Franks’ offer to pay a staffer to be a surrogate mother for himself and his wife. “He acknowledged his mistake and he took full responsibility and he resigned.”
Montenegro said he will resign from his legislative seat on Friday. That way he will avoid provoking a legal battle under the state’s “resign-to-run” law. It prohibits elected state and local officials from becoming candidates for any other post except during the final year of their term.
The deadline for filing nominating petitions for the congressional race is Jan. 10. But those in the Legislature serve terms that do not end until Jan. 14, 2019.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the 1980 voter-approved “resign-to-run” law to determine if it can be interpreted in a way to allow current legislators to remain in office while running in the special election.
That question could affect who else gets in the race.
Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said Monday she will make a decision “by the end of the week” whether to join the fray.
Lesko said she has consulted attorneys who specialize in election laws. And she said there is some difference of opinion on whether the law could be used to oust her or any other incumbent who runs for the CD 8 seat.
Lesko added that, for all practical purposes, she could not try to stay in the Senate if she runs. “Just to get the job done, I’d probably have to resign because I’ll be full time working and campaigning,” she said, noting the short amount of time between now and the primary.
Rep. Darrin Mitchell, R-Goodyear, indicated Monday he remains interested in the open seat and “will decide shortly.” And a spokesman for state Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said she is “seriously considering” making a bid for Congress.
Former Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, who quit the Legislature earlier this year to take a job in the Trump administration, announced Monday he had quit that post at the Small Business Administration. Political strategist Brian Seitchik said Lovas will have an announcement “later on this week.”
Another politician with experience in the area that CD 8 covers also is exploring a run.
“You’d be foolish not to look at the opportunity,” said Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman. He said he has name recognition in his supervisory district, which closely aligns with CD 8, as well as the personal finances — his family owns Hickman’s Family Farms — for what will be a short, intensive campaign.
Outside the traditional political sphere, Goodyear resident Christopher Sylvester was a declared candidate for CD 8 even before Franks’ resignation set up the special election.
Also filing paperwork Monday was Jon Ritzheimer, who gained some notoriety by holding anti-Muslim protests in front of a Phoenix mosque in 2015 and was convicted of federal conspiracy charges last year for his role in the occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon.
Travis Angry, author of “If I Can, You Can,” a memoir of his struggles, said he also is “strongly considering” a bid, citing his experience as a veteran of the Army and Navy.
Three Democrats already had moved to run in the district before Franks’ resignation: Judith McHale, Hiral Tipirneni and Brianna Westbrook.
The most recent voter registration numbers show Republicans outnumber Democrats by 187,234 to 109,467 in the district. There also are 156,007 voters who have opted not to register with any party.
Would-be Republican contenders need at least 860 signatures on petitions to qualify for the primary.
For Democrats the figure is 665, while 401 are needed for Libertarian candidates and 392 for Green Party candidates.
Anyone who wants to run as an independent in the general election first has to submit 4,680 signatures by the Jan. 10 deadline.