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Robb: Arizona politicians sometimes seek one post with an eye toward another

From the political notebook:

• It’s not unusual for Arizona to have candidates for secretary of state who don’t really have much interest in the job. That’s understandable. Other than setting some election policy, the office is basically a filing repository.

As the first in line for succession, the secretary of state is also in some respects a governor-in-waiting. And in Arizona’s turbulent politics, that happens not infrequently.

To mask their disinterest in the real duties of the job, these candidates sometimes make up new duties for the office that interest them more.

And sometimes these candidates actually win. Remember Dick Mahoney?

But once in office, they learn that the duties of the secretary of state are as they are, bound by the statutes.

• Now this phenomenon is creeping down the ballot. Take the recent announcement of Democrat Andrei Cherny for state treasurer, for example.

Cherny’s platform consists of an economic plan for the state, revolutionizing the management of state government and acting as the “taxpayer’s bulldog” in sniffing out spending abuse and misuse.

Cherny is thought by Democrats to be an up-and-comer. But that’s a platform for a candidate for governor, not treasurer.

The treasurer’s office is very small, constituting just 25 people out of a state work force of around 35,000. Not exactly much of a platoon to launch a revolution of the management of state government with.

The real duties of the office are rather dull: keep track of and invest the state’s money.

Dull but very important. Close to $40 billion flow through the state accounts and the treasurer manages investments of more than

$10 billion.

Cherny’s views about what the office actually does are worrisome.

Right now, there are tight restrictions on the investments that can be made. For the most part, only investment-grade fixed-income instruments can be purchased. Sixty percent of the state trust fund endowment, mostly to benefit schools, can be invested in equities publicly-traded on national exchanges. For my taste, even that’s too permissive.

Cherny says the state’s portfolio should instead be directed at investing in home-grown alternative energy and high-tech companies.

There’s an argument to be made, although I disagree with it, that there should be some sort of public venture capital fund to make such investments. But not the money state government relies on ultimately to pay the bills.

• In fairness to Cherny, the incumbent treasurer, Republican Dean Martin, is also widely regarded as having an eye for other offices, including governor. And in his inaugural speech, Martin strayed as far from his true duties as Cherny did in his announcement speech.

But Martin, to his credit, has thrown himself into the often mundane minutia of the office.

His cash flow analyses have proven to be a much earlier and more accurate indicator of the state’s financial condition than the prognostications of the various economic pooh-bahs employed by the governor’s office and the Legislature.

• In the Maricopa County wars, County Attorney Andrew Thomas has sued for peace. The Board of Supervisors were undoubtedly relieved that this time Thomas was suing metaphorically rather than literally.

Still, it’s hard to imagine the peace terms.

Thomas turned over the investigation of the court tower and the prosecution of Supervisor Don Stapley to outside counsel.

In the court tower case, he really had no choice. A judge determined that, since lawyers for Thomas had advised the board about the court tower, Thomas couldn’t criminally investigate it.

In the Stapley case, Thomas was on stronger ground. Case law in Arizona does seem to support the notion that elected public attorneys can civilly advise and represent a government unit while criminally pursing wrongful conduct by some of its members.

What Thomas wants in a peace settlement is undoubtedly for the board to dismantle the independent civil litigation unit it is setting up. The board will be reluctant to do that, but public sentiment may swing against it.

Thus far, Thomas has worn the black hat, with his real and apparent conflicts, overblown rhetoric, and Nixonian tendency to see conspiracies against him everywhere.

But he has largely conceded on the conflicts that capture the public’s attention. He was elected to the position, which includes the duty to defend the county in civil litigation.

The board may have difficulty explaining why, given the concessions Thomas has made, it is unwilling to use the public’s choice to do the job.

Robert Robb, an Arizona Republic columnist, writes about public policy and politics in Arizona. E-mail: robert.robb@arizonarepublic.com

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

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For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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