Changes in resign-to-run law unmuzzle candidates

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Ken Bennett By Mike Gertzman Ken Bennett By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Recent changes to Arizona's "resign-to-run" law mean current officeholders can now speak publicly about running for another office without having to use wiggle words, and Secretary of State Ken Bennett has taken advantage of the revisions that went into effect last week to say he will be a Republican candidate for governor next year.

Bennett's comments set off a flurry of social media traffic Thursday when a small eastern Arizona newspaper reported them and added that Bennett would resign when he files official paperwork next year.

Spokesman Matt Roberts shot down that part of the report, saying Bennett plans to serve out his term, which ends two months after the gubernatorial election in November 2014.

The Eastern Arizona Courier reported that Bennett spoke at a Constitution Day event in Thatcher on Tuesday.

Bennett hasn't formally announced a run, but he's in, Roberts said.

"He said he intends to be, and will be, a candidate in next year's gubernatorial election," Roberts said.

The changes to the resign-to-run law, which was approved by voters in 1980, were passed by the Legislature this year. They were designed to lift restrictions that required candidates to dance around their intentions, even when it was obvious they intended to run for a different office. The rules required officeholders to resign if they formally announced candidacy or filed paperwork for another office but weren't in the final year of their current term.

Candidates filed "exploratory committees," could raise money and do everything except formally say they were running for another office. Bennett has had an exploratory committee since 2011.

Now, they can acknowledge they are running but won't have to resign their current office unless they file formal nominating papers and are not in the final year of their term.

Rep. Justin Pierce, a Republican who has been considering a run for Secretary of State in 2014, told The Associated Press he's made his decision.

"I'll be a candidate for Secretary of State," he said.

Others Republicans who currently are in office and have exploratory committees for other offices include Sen. Al Melvin and Treasurer Doug Ducey, both looking at the governor's race, and Sen. Michele Reagan, who like Pierce is looking at Secretary of State.

Republican Rep. John Kavanagh sponsored House Bill 2157.

"Candidates and elected officials who are running for office can now tell voters the truth and not have to hide behind a charade of doubletalk when they've already filed an exploratory committee, collected signatures and collected donations," Kavanagh said Thursday. "This just takes away the legally imposed deception."