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Senate seat in Ducey’s hands again

December 15, 2018

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey is again preparing a short list of possible new U.S. senators after the long-anticipated departure of Jon Kyl after less than four months on the job.

That creates the chance for Congesswoman Martha McSally, who just lost a close race of her own for Senate, to remain in Washington for at least another two years.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been openly lobbying the governor to tap her. And Ducey acknowledged a week ago he has talked with McSally, though he declined to divulge the nature of the conversation. But McSally, who could be considered the most obvious candidate for the job, may have fallen out of favor over a leaked memo by campaign strategists blaming everything from dissatisfaction of Republican women with Trump to “ideological fissures’’ within the GOP. And that is fueling the same name-game speculation that occurred when the vacancy was created in August after John McCain died in office.

When Ducey visited Lake Havasu City in October, he told News-Herald reporters he hoped Kyl would serve the remainder of McCain’s term — through the 2020 elections.

Ducey tapped Kyl just 10 days after McCain’s death. The governor acknowledged he sought to fill the seat quickly with someone who could take office and vote for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And while Kyl is leaving at the end of the year — less than three weeks from now — he had made it clear from the beginning that he was not interested in the job on a longer-term basis. That has given Ducey several months to already start considering replacements, potentially allowing him to make an announcement by the end of this coming week.

And there’s something else.

The mourning over McCain is now over. And that opens the door to a discussion with his widow, Cindy, whether she would like to have the post, at least for the next two years — and possibly longer.

That luxury of more also has allowed Ducey to consider other possibilities.

One name that was previously floated was that of Lake Havasu City’s Kelli Ward, who ran against McCain in 2016 and sought the Republican nomination to replace Sen. Jeff Flake last August. She was ultimately defeated in the primary, but Ward has continued to make headlines in the months that have followed. She announced earlier this month she’s seeking to become the next chairman of the Arizona Republican Party.

Ward released a statement Friday afternoon saying she was looking forward to working with whoever Ducey selects as Arizonas next Senator.

“As the future chair of the Arizona Republican Party, I am committed to ensuring whomever the governor selects is well-equipped to defend the seat in 2020 and beyond,” she said in the release.

One possiblity is Kirk Adams, whose last day as the governor’s chief of staff was Friday.

Adams, in announcing he was leaving, told Capitol Media Services he had no interest in the senate appointment and was more interested in a job in private industry.

Working in his favor is that Adams has had close relations with Republican donors, something that would be necessary to win on his own in 2020. That’s crucial if the governor wants someone to serve more than two years, as whoever he chooses will need to run again at that time for the final two years of McCain’s six-year term.

But Adams, who was a state legislator and at one time speaker of the House, also has never run for statewide office.

Also on the short list of several Republican is Eileen Klein.

The former president of the Arizona Board of Regents, Ducey tapped Klein last year to replace Jeff DeWit after he took a job with the Trump administration as chief financial officer for NASA.

Klein, however, has even less political experience than Adams.

Ducey has taken himself out of consideration for appointing himself, saying he intends to serve the entire four-year term to which he was just reelected. That promise, if the governor keeps it, also precludes him from running in 2020 if he were to appoint someone now who would just serve as an interim caretaker for the office.

That leaves McSally as the person with the most experience despite her narrow loss last month to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema for the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake.

McSally has now run several campaigns, including two successful ones for the U.S. House from Southern Arizona before her ill-fated bid for the Senate. That gives her the experience that would be necessary to hang on to the seat in 2020.

But McSally also drew attention after the Washington Post published an internal post-election memo provided to the paper by her strategists memo blaming others — and not her own campaign — for her loss this year.

“A significant segment of the AZ GOP was hostile to the President,’’ the memo states, saying that internal polling during the primary showed that Trump never broke 80 percent favorability among Republican voters. And she said some Arizona Republicans were “outright hostile’’ to Trump and opposed to Kavanaugh’s appointment.

“This segment of moderate Republicans, especially woman, (eds: cq) proved very difficult to bring home a Republican candidate that supported President Trump and the confirmation of Justice Kavanugh,’’ the memo states. And it says that Sinema benefited by portraying herself as willing to not only work with Trump but suggesting that she was closer to McCain’s legacy than McSally.

Lost was the fact that McSally, who won her 2016 congressional race by distancing herself from Trump, reversed course and cozied up politically with the president this year, embracing his ideas of border security and constructing a wall.

In his letter stepping down, Kyl reminded the governor that his commitment was to serve only through the end of the year.

“When I accepted your appointment, I agreed to complete the work of the 115th Congress and then reevaluate continuing to serve,’’ Kyl wrote in a letter delivered Thursday to Gov. Doug Ducey.

“I have concluded that it would be best if I resign so that your new appointee can begin the new term with all other senators in January 2019 and can serve a full two (potentially four) years,’’ he wrote.

But Kyl also signaled from the beginning his lack of interest in staying beyond — including keeping confidential his financial affairs, like how much he was making at the firm of Covington and Burling providing political advice for high-powered clients.

Seante rules require lawmakers to file financial disclosure forms of things like income and assets. But Kyl, on taking office, was granted an extension until “no later than Jan. 3, 2019.’’

The resignation and anticipated new appointment still leaves unsettled the legal question of whether whoever is named really can serve through 2020.

In a lawsuit filed last month, several individuals represented by the former chairman of the Arizona Libertarian Party are asking a federal judge to require an election within six months of any vacancy.

Micheal Kielsky acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution requires Ducey to name an immediate replacement on the death or resignation of any sitting senator. But Kielsky contends the governor must call a special election as soon as practicable to fill the post, something he contends means within six months.

Arizona law does require a special election to fill out the balance of the term. But his staff said the state law is worded so that special election is at the next general election — in this case 2020 — with no mandate for the state to spend the money on an unscheduled election.

No date has been set for a hearing on the matter which actually was filed after Kyl was appointed to fill McCain’s seat.

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