Tea-Publicans are trying to change the vacancy in office law to protect Senator John McCain’s seat


Tea-Publicans in the Arizona legislature are trying to change the long-established law on vacancies occurring in office for U.S. Senate in the event that Senator John McCain steps down or dies early, triggering a special election for his Senate seat this year.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports Arizona Senate moves to change rules for replacing McCain:

The Republican-controlled Arizona Legislature is moving to ensure that ailing Sen. John McCain’s seat isn’t on the November ballot if he leaves office, but Democrats plan to block the effort.

The effort emerged Tuesday as the state Senate put an emergency clause on a bill, HB 2538, changing how members of Congress who die or resign are replaced.

U.S. Senate vacancies are filled by a governor’s appointee, with the seat on the next general election ballot. The secretary of state has interpreted that to mean that if McCain’s seat is vacated by May 31, it would be on the August primary and November general election ballot. The new proposal changes that to 150 days before the primary, or March 31 of this year. That takes McCain’s seat out of play.

McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer last summer and has been recovering in Arizona since before Christmas. He was hospitalized over the weekend for intestinal surgery needed to stem an infection and remains in a Phoenix hospital in stable condition.

The emergency clause requires a two-thirds vote, and Democratic Sen. Steve Farley said that won’t happen.

“They’re trying to make it really easy to appoint someone to two and a half years without an election to a U.S. Senate seat should the current holder of that Senate seat resign or no longer be able to hold office,” Farley said. “The thing is, we’re all going to vote against it as Democrats, so they won’t get their emergency. It’s silly for them to put it on and think we won’t notice.”

Having a second Senate seat to defend in 2018 would double the chances that Democrats could pick up an Arizona Senate seat for the first time since Dennis DiConcini left office in 1995.

It’s unclear exactly who is pushing for the change, although Farley speculated it was Republican Gov. Doug Ducey. Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

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The Legislation was originally intended to lengthen the time required for a special election for a vacant U.S. House seat and was prompted by the scramble to replace Trent Franks, a longtime Congressman who stepped down in December amid sexual misconduct allegations. House members who leave office trigger a snap special election with no appointment by the governor. Democrats in the House added the change in Senate replacement rules, not anticipating the emergency clause, Rep. Ken Clark said.

The measure advanced Tuesday still requires a formal Senate vote before returning to the House.

The Republic‘s Laurie Roberts writes, Roberts: Arizona Senate votes to block you from replacing McCain if vacancy occurs:

Once again, the Arizona Legislature is proving that it doesn’t trust you.

Earlier this session, our leaders trotted out a doomed proposal that would strip voters of the right to nominate candidates for the U.S. Senate in the primary election. (State Representative Travis Grantham (R-Gilbert)  introduced House Concurrent Resolution 2022 that would amend the Arizona Constitution to eliminate primary elections for the United States Senate. The bill was co-sponsored by one other legislator: Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Tucson)).

This time, our leaders don’t trust you to decide who should represent you in the Senate, should Sen. John McCain leave office in the next six weeks.

McCain is suffering from a brutal brain cancer and his failing health apparently constitutes an emergency at the state Capitol, where politics trump common decency or class.

Brazen political move

On Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate gave preliminary approval to an immediate change in state law for how to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy. This, so that should McCain leave office in coming weeks, Gov. Doug Ducey would select who would represent us for the next two and one-half years.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office’s, if McCain left office by May 31, Ducey would appoint a temporary replacement and Arizona voters would choose their next senator in November. If the office became vacant on June 1 or thereafter, Ducey’s appointee would serve until the seat went onto the ballot in 2020. (Note: there is some dispute about the date. While the Secretary of State’s Office puts the deadline at May 31, elections lawyer Joe Kanefield notes that ARS16-202 requires the ballot to be finalized 120 days before the primary election, which would put the date by which a vacancy must occur at April 30.)

The proposed change in law would require the seat to become vacant 150 days before the primary in order to hold an election. This year, that deadline would have been March 31.

The proposal was already a part of House Bill 2538, a bill originally intended to lengthen future special congressional campaigns after Trent Franks’ free fall and the scramble to replace him. The Associated Press’ Bob Christie reports that Democrats amended the bill in the House to similarly lengthen future Senate campaigns.

But on Tuesday, state Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Kingman, proposed adding an emergency clause to the bill, meaning it would take effect immediately rather than later this summer.

Democrats will block the move

Borrelli told his colleagues it’s important to “be prepared” and apparently Republicans agreed because they gave it a preliminary thumbs up on a voice vote.

The bill still requires a formal Senate vote before returning to the House but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for this particular end run on voters to occur.

An emergency clause requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber. Democrats, already seeing the distinct possibility of Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema snagging the open seat left by Sen. Jeff Flake’s decision not to seek re-election, want a shot at McCain’s seat as well, should it become vacant.

Meanwhile, Republicans want to make sure it remains in their hands.

Which means they want the choice of who will represent Arizona for the next two and one-half years in Ducey’s hands.

Read: not yours.

If Joe Kanefield is correct, it will all be academic after April 30. If the Secretary of State is correct, a dubious proposition given her dismal track record, it will all be academic after May 31.

Most likely scenario: John McCain toughs it out past the deadline for the 2018 election, and Governor Ducey appoints his replacement, who will serve until a special election in 2020.