In my previous post, I examined briefly the seven states that do not actually have an office of lieutenant governor. And, I pondered leaving those seven states right there, without any further comment about them. But, there is one critical issue in each of those states that they share with the other 43 states that do have a lieutenant governor: 1) who becomes governor in the event of a vacancy? Arizona is a good place to start examining the succession processes and case histories of the seven outliers, which I will do from time to time in this blog.
Arizona’s constitution, in Article 5, Section 6 indicates that “in the event of the death of the governor, or his resignation, removal from office, or permanent disability to discharge the duties of the office, the secretary of state, if holding by election, shall succeed to the office of governor until his successor shall be elected and shall qualify. If the secretary of state be holding otherwise than by election, or shall fail to qualify as governor, the attorney general, the state treasurer, or the superintendent of public instruction, if holding by election, shall, in the order named, succeed to the office of governor.” The critical term here is “if holding by election,” thus an appointed secretary of state in Arizona cannot automatically become the governor in case of a vacancy; the next-highest elected constitutional office succeeds to the office. And, in 1978, this very scenario occurred in the Grand Canyon State.
Former county prosecutor and judge Raul Castro had been elected Governor of Arizona in 1974. Previously, Castro had served Presidents Johnson and Nixon as an ambassador to El Salvador from 1964-1968 and then Bolivia in 1968-69. After he left the diplomatic corps in late 1969 (there are conflicting reasons as to why), he returned to Arizona and promptly ran for Governor in 1970, but lost. He ran again in 1974, and won.
In late 1977, President Carter appointed Governor Castro as Ambassador to Argentina, which left a vacancy in the governor’s mansion. Duly elected Secretary of State Wes Bolin became the governor upon the departure of Castro, which then left a vacancy in the Secretary of State’s Office. Governor Bolin appointed Rose Mofford to fill that vacancy. Then, tragedy struck and the Constitution of Arizona stepped in to sort things out.
Governor Bolin died quite unexpectedly, only 5 months into his tenure, in March of 1978, thus leaving a vacancy again in the governor’s office. However, Rose Mofford did not become governor, due to the clause in Article 5, Section 6–she was an appointed, not elected constitutional officer. Thus, the next-highest elected constitutional officer, Attorney General Bruce Babbitt, became Governor of Arizona, a position in which he served from 1978 until 1987.