The Arizona Republic – Published Friday, August 3rd, 2018 – The Republic Editorial Board
The secretary of state’s office shouldn’t generate many headlines if it’s running smoothly. The one under Michele Reagan has.
Reagan has accepted responsibility for some mistakes and described other news-generating incidents as minor hiccups. Voters must determine whether she deserves a second term or give her challengers — businessman Steve Gaynor in the GOP primary and Democratic lawmaker Katie Hobbs in the general — the nod.
Here are 5 issues that can help make that decision.
1. Reagan made some early mistakes
Voters in Maricopa County waited for up to five hours in the March 2016 presidential preference election to cast ballots, after elections officials reduced poll workers and polling places to 60, from more than 200 in 2012.
Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell accepted blame; she was ousted in the 2016 general election. Reagan, whose office oversees elections in the state, accepted blame as well, though she pointed out that the call in the county was Purcell’s to make and that Purcell had 30-plus years’ of experience running elections.
Reagan’s office also failed to send publicity pamphlets to about 200,000 households in the spring 2017 special election that included a ballot measure, Proposition 123, to resolve an education-funding lawsuit. Her office blamed an outside vendor.
Republican challenger Gaynor said the problems reflect poor quality control and that he would have each process go through a rigorous review and checklist.
2. Triumphs, setbacks online
One campaign promise Reagan ran on is a website that would help the public track money in political campaigns. She forecast a debut by the summer of 2015, in time for the 2016 election.
The office missed that launch date, as it has several other target dates since. A nearly $500,000 contract with a vendor was terminated. The action included a non-disparagement agreement, which makes it difficult to assess what went wrong and who was at fault.
A test version of the site, SeeTheMoney.com, was launched in late 2017, but an iteration that candidates can use has been postponed until after the Nov. 8 election. It is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than initially planned.
“Three times in the past 30 years, the secretary of state succeeded the elected governor – most recently in 2009, when Jan Brewer took over for Janet Napolitano, who was appointed to a Cabinet position by President Barack Obama.”
Reagan has experienced more success in other modernization efforts, including quicker, electronic processing of citizen petitions and the availability of online and credit card payments.
3. The clash over voter registration
Gaynor and Reagan clash over her office’s settlement in June of a federal lawsuit that alleged Arizona’s two-track voter registration system unconstitutionally blocks tens of thousands of people from voting.
Federal law requires the state to register voters for federal elections by attesting they are citizens. Arizona law, however, requires voters to demonstrate proof of citizenship to cast ballots in state elections. Reagan defended the consent decree, which resolves the dispute without admitting guilt, saying Arizona would have lost the lawsuit if it continued to not register voters for federal elections simply because they used the state’s form.
Gaynor said Reagan should have fought the case at trial given that Arizona voters approved the citizenship requirement at the ballot box. Gaynor seems willing to use the case to amplify anti-immigration fervor. In robocalls to GOP voters, he accused Reagan of “allowing illegal immigrants to vote in federal elections in Arizona.”
In a meeting with The Republic’s editorial board, he tempered the accusation and said it’s unknowable whether non-citizens cast ballots in Arizona. The state attorney general’s office has prosecuted 22 voter fraud cases in the past decade. All of them involved citizens voting in two states.
4. What they aspire to do with office
Gaynor, a longtime businessman in the printing industry who is spending about $1 million of his own money, said he was recruited to run to restore confidence in the office. But he’s long on generalities and short on specifics for reform.
He said he would rebuild relations with county recorders, who at times have had contentious interactions with Reagan’s office. The issues include an election procedure manual that has not been updated during Reagan’s tenure.
Reagan maintains that the law doesn’t require the manual to be updated each election cycle. She said she first wants to finish efforts to modernize how the secretary of state’s office conducts business and to improve transparency on political campaigns, such as “real-time” data of lobbyist spending on state lawmakers.
5. Winner could become governor
Three times in the past 30 years, the secretary of state succeeded the elected governor — most recently in 2009, when Jan Brewer took over for Janet Napolitano, who was appointed to a Cabinet position by President Barack Obama.
Reagan and Gaynor said they have no designs to be governor, but Reagan has legislative experience as a moderate lawmaker to draw from, having served as a state representative and senator for more than a decade.
Her record would suggest a moderate leadership approach; Gaynor claims conservative values, including being pro-Trump, pro-life and pro-Second Amendment.
This is where this choice becomes important. Gaynor is a cypher, a virtual unknown in Arizona politics. But Reagan played an important role in the Legislature when it was going off the rails. She was a steadying, calming influence during the high point of ideological fervor that brought us SB 1070, the hard-nosed immigration bill. In the wake of that disastrous law, which divided the people of this state and was leveled by the federal courts, Reagan worked behind the scenes to limit the damage.
Few know this, but she and other centrists stopped a half-dozen more draconian bills from gaining passage in the aftermath of SB-1070. Since then the state has largely kept a lid on crazy immigration legislation.
The media has been tough on Reagan for her mistakes, as it should have been, but reporters who covered her in the Legislature still respect the balance she showed there.
What the contest boils down to
The race, in both the primary and the general, pivots on Reagan’s first-term performance. Her office has been controversy-free of late, following early missteps, though there remains room for improvement.
But should the day come when Arizona once again calls on its secretary of state to become governor, Michele Reagan is the most likely to arrive with a political temperament anchored in pragmatism and restraint.
This is an opinion of The Arizona Republic’s editorial board.