PHOENIX -- A House panel voted Thursday to make it a bit easier for current elected officials to start running for their next office.
The measure approved by the Judiciary Committee on a 5-2 vote would scrap existing law which says any official who formally announces for a new office more than one year before the end of a term forfeits his or her office. The measure now goes to the full House.
But 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, which prohibits officials from actually filing nomination papers for another office before the last year of their terms. That would prevent those in the middle of a four-year term from seeking another office two years in 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 that distinction makes no sense.
"I'm getting rid of the charade of having to say 'I'm thinking of running' when obviously the person is running if they're collecting money, collecting signatures (on nominating papers) and doing everything else,' he said.
Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, conceded the point that there are loopholes that 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 fundraise 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 if Kavanagh wants such a radical change he should ask voters to alter or repeal the 1980 measure outright.
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 that both had violated the law, with Joyner quitting and Laos being forced out by court order.
Joyner also challenged the law in federal court, calling it an unconstitutional state-imposed restriction on his ability to run for federal office. But the judges were unpersuaded, saying 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 that their elected officials were paying full attention to their business, at least in the middle of their terms. But Kavanagh brushed aside 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.