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State Senate leader: Napolitano’s delayed departure creates uncertainty

President-elect Barack Obama with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano at a "Stand for Change" rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum Jan. 30 in Phoenix.

President-elect Barack Obama with Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano at a "Stand for Change" rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum Jan. 30 in Phoenix.

President-elect Barack Obama on Monday announced he has chosen Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Napolitano’s midterm departure will put Secretary of State Jan Brewer in the governor’s office but not immediately.

The turnover means the governor’s office will change partisan hands — Napolitano is a Democrat, Brewer is a Republican — and comes as the state is grappling with a budget crisis that is expected to force significant cuts in spending.

The turnover of the Arizona governor’s office to Brewer won’t occur before late January at the earliest because Napolitano said Monday she doesn’t plan to resign as governor until the U.S. Senate confirms her appointment.

“It is difficult to leave one job for another but one must go where one can best serve,” Napolitano said during a news conference in Chicago with Obama and other newly announced members of his national security team.

Napolitano later said in a statement released by her office that she was “humbled and honored” to serve the nation and felt a duty to so when called by Obama.

A Senate confirmation vote can’t happen until Obama is inaugurated Jan. 20, though past presidential transitions have seen Senate committees hold pre-inauguration confirmation hearings.

In the meantime, the Legislature may have already held a special session for lawmakers to act on the projected $1.2 billion shortfall in the state’s current $9.9 billion budget this month and the Legislature will have started its 2009 regular session on Jan. 12.

Napolitano said she will deliver the annual State of the State address that day and later present lawmakers with a proposed state budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

“I intend to carry forward with my most important responsibilities as the leader of this state,” she said.

Sen. Bob Burns, a Peoria Republican who is the state Senate’s incoming president, said he welcomes Napolitano’s departure because of years of friction between her and GOP lawmakers. However, he said Napolitano’s plan to remain in office pending confirmation causes troubling uncertainty because it delays Brewer’s transition.

“The timing is the big problem,” Burns said. “How do we prepare to function with a governor that’s going to be the governor for the vast majority of the session when she’s not really the governor yet?”

Napolitano, 51, would be departing after six years as Arizona governor and midway through her second four-year term. She previously served as Arizona attorney general and U.S. attorney for Arizona.

Napolitano said Brewer “will need your support, and I pledge her mine. Specific members of my staff will be designated to oversee the Arizona transition, to ensure that power and responsibility are transferred seamlessly.”

Brewer, 64, is a veteran public officeholder, with more than two decades as a legislator, a Maricopa County supervisor and secretary of state. Arizona does not have a lieutenant general.

Brewer had a reputation as a fiscal hard-liner and conservative on social issues while a legislator in the 1980s and 1990s, so her taking over the governorship would mean a new approach from Napolitano’s direction.

A spokesman for Brewer’s office didn’t immediately return a call for comment Monday morning.

As governor, Napolitano has pushed for more spending for education and social services. That drew support from advocates who welcome attention to areas they contended had been given short shrift in favor of tax cuts. However, Republican legislators charge that Napolitano rammed through spending that the state cannot afford.

Meanwhile, Napolitano was a liberal on some social issues, including abortion rights, and pushed for strong state action on environmental initiatives.

Citing the lack of any word from Napolitano, Brewer before Monday declined public comment on the prospect of becoming governor since it was reported in mid-November that Napolitano was Obama’s primary choice for the homeland security post.

Napolitano’s preprimary endorsement of Barack Obama in February was prized by his campaign as a nod from a female governor, and as a Democrat elected in a Republican-leaning state she was included in early speculation about possible running mates.

In an e-mail sent to Arizona Democrats, Napolitano cited achievements in education, health care and economic development.

She thanked fellow Democrats for their “continued friendship and support” and said together they had built a strong state party “that’s stronger, smarter and better positioned for victory in 2010 than ever before.”


Statement from Gov. Napolitano

This morning I was proud to accept an offer from President-elect Barack Obama to become Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

I believe that when called upon to serve – particularly at such a critical time in the history of our country – it is our duty to step forward and say, “yes.”

This was by no means, an easy decision. Over the past six years, we have accomplished a great deal together. We moved our state in a new direction strengthening our schools with voluntary full-day kindergarten, higher teacher pay and higher standards for our students. We expanded access to children’s health insurance and saved Arizonans millions of dollars with one of the largest free prescription drug discount programs in the country. And we’re rebuilding Arizona’s economy with a focus on high-wage, high-tech jobs of the future.

On the political front, we surpassed one million registered Democrats for the first time in history. We reached another milestone by electing four more Democrats to Congress, sending a majority to Washington this January. And we’ve built a Democratic Party that’s stronger, smarter and better positioned for victory in 2010 than ever before.

Arizona is facing a challenging time, and I intend to carry forward with my most important responsibilities as the leader of this state. In the weeks ahead, I will deliver my State of the State address, and shortly thereafter, I will present to the Arizona Legislature a balanced budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2010. Upon confirmation as Secretary by the U.S. Senate, I will tender my resignation as Governor of Arizona.

My pride in this state, my love for it and my dedication to it will never change. I will continue to work for Arizona and Arizonans, but from a different place and with a different charge. Thank you for your continued friendship and support.

Yours very truly,

Janet Napolitano, Governor

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