Oct 31, 2022 - Politics

Arizona's next governor may have chance to clear out appointees

Illustration of a broom dividing a red and blue background with elements of ballots on it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A largely unknown and unnoticed change to state law during Gov. Doug Ducey's first year in office may give his successor the power to clean house and reshape some of the state's most powerful policymaking and regulatory bodies.

State of play: In 2015, Ducey signed a law with a provision that was intended to grant him, or any governor, the power to fire board and commission appointees with fixed terms.

  • Prior to the change, state law said officers whose terms aren't set by law serve at the pleasure of the person who appointed them.
  • The amended statute says that all officers serve at the pleasure of the appointing power, "unless otherwise specified by law."

Why it matters: This will give the winner of the race between Democrat Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake carte blanche to fire appointees whom they would have otherwise been stuck with until their terms expired.

  • Some powerful boards whose members are appointed by the governor and have fixed terms include the education, transportation and regulatory and licensing entities for a wide range of professions.
  • Ducey spokesperson C.J. Karamargin tells Axios that the administration doesn't believe the law would apply to the Board of Regents because it was established by the Arizona Constitution and its members have fixed terms under state statute.

What he's saying: "Fixed terms allow you to keep arm's distance from the raw politics of the day, and I think that's very healthy," Chris Herstam, a former lawmaker and gubernatorial chief of staff, tells Axios.

  • Without the protection of fixed terms, board and commission members would be subject to the political whims of the person who appointed them.

The other side: Supporters of the amended law say chief executives shouldn't be saddled with people who might enact policies that are contrary to their own and that they should be able to select people who share their visions and goals.

Yes, but: It's far from certain that the law would actually allow a governor to fire appointees with fixed terms, as the Ducey administration intended.

Details: Paul Eckstein, an attorney who's been involved in Democratic politics for decades, said his interpretation of the law is that it would allow governors to fire regents and other appointees who have fixed terms.

1 big caveat: There's enough ambiguity in the law that an appointee who wanted to challenge their firing would have a good legal argument to take to court, Eckstein said.

  • Longtime Capitol lobbyist Kevin DeMenna tells Axios that he doubts the law would permit governors to fire anyone who had been confirmed by the Senate.

Of note: The Ducey administration was unaware of any instance in which he had used the law to fire someone.

What they'll do: Lake spokesperson Ross Trumble declined to comment on how she'd use that power if elected, telling Axios that she's focused on the election and that transition decisions will wait until afterward.

  • Hobbs spokesperson Sarah Robinson said replacing board and commission members wouldn't be her first priority, and that she'd evaluate them all on the merits of their service.
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