Gov. Doug Ducey formally sets Feb. 27 primary for Franks' seat

PHOENIX – Republicans are lining up to vie for the seat in Congress vacated just this past Friday by Trent Franks.

Former legislator and utility regulator Bob Stump was first out of the gate, barely waiting until after Gov. Doug Ducey formally set the primary for Feb. 27 and the general election for April 24. Stump immediately sought to claim the anti-Washington cloak, saying his agenda include “uprooting an entrenched ‘deep state’ which thwarts conservative reforms and subverts our democratic institutions.’’

State Sen. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, was not far behind in his announcement, claiming the blessing of the now-former congressman.

“He asked me to run for his seat to continue the fight to restore the republic, and to look after the people of Arizona’s 8th Congressional District,’’ said Montenegro, who worked for Franks at his local district office.

Montenegro said he believes he can continue the work that Franks was doing in Congress to rebuild the military and balancing the budget. And he does not believe that the allegations about Franks of improper conduct that ultimately forced the eight-term congressman to resign, takes anything away from that endorsement.

“Trent has apologized for what he did, for what happened,’’ Montenegro said of the offer to pay a staffer to be a surrogate mother for himself and his wife. “He acknowledged his mistake and he took full responsibility and he resigned.’’

Montenegro said he will resign from his legislative seat on Friday.

That avoids provoking a legal battle under the state’s “resign-to-run’’ law. It prohibits elected state and local officials from becoming candidates for any other post except during the final year of their term.

What makes that significant is the deadline for filing nominating petitions is Jan. 10. But those in the Legislature serve terms that do not end until Jan. 14, 2019.

The Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the 1980 voter-approved statute to determine if it can be interpreted in a way to allow current legislators to remain in office while running in the special election.

What Attorney General Mark Brnovich thinks about the law is crucial: He is the only one with legal standing to go to court to declare that an incumbent state lawmaker who is running for Congress but did not resign from the Legislature has forfeited his or her seat.

That question could affect who else gets in the race.

Sen. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, said Monday she will make a decision “by the end of the week’’ whether to join the fray.

Lesko said she has consulted attorneys who specialize in election laws. And she said there is some difference of opinion on whether the law could be used to oust her – or any other incumbent who ran for the CD 8 seat.

But Lesko said that, for all practical purposes, she could not try to stay in the Senate.

“Just to get the job done, I’d probably have to resign because I’ll be full time working and campaigning,’’ she said, what with the short amount of time between now and the primary.

Rep. Darrin Mitchell, R-Goodyear, indicated Monday to Capitol Media Services he remains interested in the open seat and “will decide shortly.’’And a spokesman for state Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said she is “seriously considering’’ making a bid for Congress.

And former Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, who quit the Legislature earlier this year to take a job in the Trump administration announced Monday he had quit that post at the Small Business Administration. Political strategist Brian Seitchik said Lovas will have an announcement “later on this week.’’

Another politician with experience in the area that CD 8 covers also is exporing a run.

“You’d be foolish not to look at the opportunity,’’ said Maricopa County Clint Hickman. He said he has both name recognition in his supervisory district which closely aligns with CD 8 as well as the personal finances for what will be a short, intensive campaign.

Outside the traditional political sphere, Goodyear resident Christopher Sylvester already was a declared candidate for CD 8 even before Franks’ resignation created a vacancy and set up the special election.

And Travis Angry, author of “If I Can, You Can,’’ a memoir of his struggles, said he is “strongly considering’’ a bid, citing his experience as a veteran of the Army and Navy.

Anyone who wants to run as an independent in the general election first has to submit 4,680 signatures by that same Jan. 10 deadline.