MESA — Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs said neither she — nor any other state official — has the unilateral right to keep Donald Trump off the ballot for the state’s presidential preference primary based on the 14th Amendment.
That’s also the view of Republican Sen. Ken Bennett, who served for six years as the secretary of state, Arizona’s chief election officer.
But Adrian Fontes, the current secretary of state, hasn’t reached that conclusion yet of whether he can decide that the actions of the former president in and around Jan. 6, 2021, violate a provision of the post-Civil War amendment that bar anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the government from holding federal office.
Instead, his press aide said Thursday that Fontes is actively seeking legal advice.
Fontes, though, is not the only one. His counterparts from other states have said they also are looking for guidance.
For the moment, Fontes has some time.
The earliest anyone seeking to get on the March 19 ballot can file the necessary paperwork is Nov. 10, with a deadline of Dec. 11. More to the point, Fontes must decide by Dec. 14 whose name can be on the ballot.
Hobbs, who was secretary of state until becoming governor in January, said Thursday she doesn’t see any wiggle room for her Democratic successor.
“It is not up to any elected official to get involved in that,” she said. “It’s up to the courts.”
But don’t look for the governor to be the one to seek judicial intervention.
“I’m not going to be a part of that,” Hobbs said.
Bennett said the secretary of state does have some authority to decide who gets a chance to run for president.
“There are things you can do in Arizona that can keep you off the ballot,” he said.
The Prescott Republican said there is a form that those seeking ballot status in Arizona have to fill out, asking would-be candidates whether they meet the three criteria outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
“You have to be 35 years of age, you have to have lived in the country for 14 years, and be a natural-born citizen,” he said. “If you don’t check those three boxes and you don’t attest with your signature that you meet those qualifications, you shouldn’t be on the ballot.”
And anything else?
“Not for the reasons of January 6th,” Bennett said.
He said that’s especially true given Trump has not been convicted of anything related to the events leading up to and during the riot where the former president’s supporters sought to halt the counting of the electoral votes in an unsuccessful bid to keep him in office and deny the election to Joe Biden.
“Just to hypothesize that he might be off the ballot because of what happened on January 6th I think is complete inappropriate,” Bennett said.
Bennett has some history in this area of what a secretary of state can — and cannot — do in determining the qualifications of presidential contenders. And it starts with the fact that he said he discovered in 2012 that Democrat Barack Obama, seeking reelection, had not checked the three boxes on the state form when he first ran in 2008.
“I was shocked,” he said.
The problem, said Bennett, was resolved when Obama’s campaign provided a signed form.
Yet Bennett caused headlines when he requested the state of Hawaii to provide a certification that it had a birth certificate on file for Obama. He said Thursday, however, that had nothing to do with whether Obama’s name was going to be on the ballot.
So why ask for it?
“I basically requested that document because I had people, mostly a lot of Republicans, saying ‘We don’t believe he was born in Hawaii,’” Bennett said.
The actual birth certificate was not subject to disclosure. But Bennett said he was informed there was a statute in Hawaii that allows election officials from other states to get “this certain certification in lieu of a birth certificate.”
“So I simply did that to prove to people who contacted my office saying, daily, ‘What are you going to do to make sure that he was really eligible to run for president,’” he said.
That involved getting a $5 money order, filling it out, and sending it to Hawaii. And Bennett said what he got was the verification that Barack Hussein Obama II was born on Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, with the names of the parents and the hospital of his birth.
But Bennett said it would not have mattered — at least to him for the purposes of the 2012 presidential primary — if he never got the document about Obama.
“If he filled out the form that Arizona produces and checked those three boxes and signed the form, he would have been on the ballot,” he said.
He was — but only for the general election. The Democrats, with an incumbent in office, opted out of the preference primary, with party officials giving their delegates to Obama.
There was a 2012 primary on the Republican side, with Mitt Romney winning in Arizona. He eventually got his party’s nomination only to lose in November to Obama.