Arizona legislature's lawyers says 'resign-to-run' not triggered

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (AP) -

The Arizona Legislature's nonpartisan legal counsel says the state's "resign to run" law won't be triggered if sitting lawmakers want to seek the U.S. House seat vacated by Trent Franks.

[RELATED: Rep. Trent Franks resigns immediately amid surrogacy allegation]

The nonbinding memo from the Legislative Council issued this week comes as confusion over the state constitutional provision hangs over several Republican members of the Legislature who are running or considering running for the seat.

Franks' resignation last week amid sexual harassment allegations triggered a special election to fill his seat in the heavily Republican district. The provision says elected officials must resign to run for another office unless they are in the final year of their term. The Jan. 10 filing deadline is more than a year before the next legislative session begins on Jan. 14, 2019.

But the Council memo says the date to use is Jan. 7, 2019, so the provision doesn't apply. The memo was issued Monday in response to a question about when a lawmaker's term expires.

[RELATED: Rep. Trent Franks' absolutely bizarre resignation letter]

One sitting lawmaker, state Sen. Steve Montenegro, a Republican, has also announced he is running and plans to resign. Also in the race is former Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump, a Republican, and former state Rep. Phil Lovas, who ran President Donald Trump's Arizona campaign committee last year.

Several lawmakers, including GOP Sens. Debbie Lesko and Kimberly Yee and Rep. Tony Rivero, are considering jumping in, as is Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman, a Republican.

Lesko said she is working with her attorney and political consultants before deciding whether to run and if she will resign.

"I think if I got in I'd have a good chance of winning," she said Thursday.

[RELATED: AZ GOP Rep. Trent Franks announces resignation over possible sexual harassment allegations]

Montenegro's campaign consultant, Constantin Querard, said he would resign because it would be difficult to work as a lawmaker and effectively run a special election campaign. The primary election is Feb. 27 and the general election is April 24, both in the heart of the yearly legislative session.

Three Democrats had already filed to run with the Federal Election Commission when Franks resigned Friday, but Republicans have a big voter-registration advantage in the district that covers the northwest Phoenix suburbs.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona politics]

Attorney Joe Kanefield, a former state elections director who is representing Yee, said there is ambiguity in the Constitutional provisions affecting the start of the Legislature's yearly session. He said that and the fact that only a few days are at issue means it is unlikely a lawmaker would be removed from office if they decided to run and did not resign.

He noted that Attorney General Mark Brnovich would have to move to have the lawmaker removed, or allow someone else to make that effort. Brnovich's spokesman said Monday he was reviewing whether the resign-to-run law would be triggered.

"It would be surprising to me if the result at the end of the day was removing a legislator from office on that ground," Kanefield said.

Kanefield's opinion conflicts with election lawyer Tim La Sota, who said earlier this week that he believes the resign-to-run law is clearly at issue.

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