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A Heartbeat Away

One of two candidates for secretary of state could be Arizona's next unelected governor

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The contest for secretary of state pits Republican Ken Bennett, the appointed officeholder, against Democrat Chris Deschene, a member of the state Legislature.

Bennett became secretary of state last year when Jan Brewer moved into the governor's chair. He says his main goal in running for a full-term is "To protect the integrity of the election system."

For his part, Deschene indicates he wants to provide strong leadership and a forward-looking vision for Arizona.

"We need to fix problems in the current office," Deschene suggests. Among those he mentions is the recent Green Party controversy, where some sham candidates enlisted to run by a Republican were included on the ballot. Deschene says of the case, "State leadership stood on the sidelines."

Over the last 14 years, two secretaries of state have become non-elected governors. As to whether he's qualified for the higher office, without hesitation Deschene replies, "Absolutely.

"Look as my experience as a Marine," Deschene declares of his 10 years of military service. "I managed over 160 Marines and a multi-million dollar budget."

In addition, Deschene lists his experience as an attorney, an engineer, and a business owner as other reasons he's qualified to be governor. "I believe in being inclusive," Deschene emphasizes, "and running an open, fair, and transparent office."

Bennett also thinks he's ready to be governor. "I'd bring my judgment (to the office)" he says of his 25 years of public service, "along with raising a family for the last 30 years, as well as 25-years in the private business sector."

Expanding on that latter background, Bennett says his Prescott oil company had 30 employees and did $30 million a year in business.

Part of the secretary of state's job is preparing Arizona's voter registration form. It now requests the last four digits of a person's Social Security Number, potentially subjecting them to identity-theft concerns (see "Social Insecurity," Sept. 9).

Bennett says he's open to the possibility of changing the form. But he believes the identity-theft risk must be balanced with the need to ensure only U.S. citizens are registering to vote.

"Someday," Bennett continues, "I'd like to go to enforcement by fingerprinting. Something that would provide security but not be an identity-theft risk."

Deschene indicates he'd back amending the current law that mandates the SSN digits. "I favor protecting the integrity and security of the voter," he points out, "so I'd approve that."

Aiding Arizona's ailing economy is another of Deschene's priorities, about which he says, "The secretary of state can help by being an example in the area of civic engagements."

"I'd like to help play a role in getting the economic engine restarted in the state," Bennett says. Asked how the secretary of state can do that, he replies that contributing to policy discussions and cutting down on the paperwork required for filings by partnerships can assist.

Since he's the state's chief elections officer, Bennett isn't taking a position on Proposition 111. That measure, if approved, would not only rename the secretary of state's office as lieutenant governor, but also combine the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor as a team on the general-election ballot.

Deschene strongly opposes the measure for three reasons. First, he says it will give the lieutenant governor a conflict of interest since he'll potentially be overseeing the election of his own running mate.

The second reason Deschene gives for opposing the proposition is that he believes it might disenfranchise independents and small-party candidates. Finally, he says, "We'll probably have to go back to fix (these problems)."

Deschene asks for votes as secretary of state because of several issues. First, he says not only would he have done more to point out the Green Party candidate problem but he'll also present a plan to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Additionally, Deschene believes lobbyists at the state capitol need more oversight.

"It's time to have accountability by improving standards for disclosing conflicts of interests," he says. "Perhaps we need some sort of reporting standards for lobbyists, along with penalties."

Deschene concludes of his candidacy for secretary of state, "I believe I'm qualified and can get the job done."

For his part, Bennett provides two examples he thinks demonstrate his leadership style. The first has to do with the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and unions to spend huge sums of money on elections, something that was previously prohibited in Arizona.

"I called various groups together" on the topic, Bennett explains, "and we had six or seven meetings. There was little consensus at first." In the end, though, he says the legal provisions developed were unanimously adopted by the state Legislature.

The second example Bennett discusses is the biennial update of the state's election manual. Historically, he says, the staff in the secretary of state's office along with a few county recorders did this job.

"I instructed my staff to include all county recorders and election officials," Bennett explains, "along with some others, like the ACLU. It was a committee of 45 or 50 people that had monthly meetings and went through every page of the manual." Their work, he says, was approved by all required governmental agencies.

As to why people should vote for him, Bennett concludes: "Because of my judgment and experience. I view elected office as something where I work for the people, and not the other way around."

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