Once More Unto the Breach

Terry Goddard runs for secretary of state on a platform of protecting voters' rights

After he lost the governor's race in 2010, Democrat Terry Goddard thought he was retiring from the campaign trail.

Goddard had been one of the few Democrats who had won statewide office, serving two terms as attorney general from 2002 to 2010. But the governor's office was a prize that eluded him in 1990, 1994 and 2010, and he figured that it was time to finish his career in the private sector.

"A year ago, I was having a fine time practicing law on two different levels and teaching and, as my wife said, it was nice to have an income," Goddard said. "If you had told me that in March of 2014, I'd be running for secretary of state, I would have said you needed to have your head examined."

And yet last week, Goddard filed the paperwork to make it official: He is indeed going to run for Arizona secretary of state.

Goddard said he was inspired to get into the race because "we've seldom had such a coordinated assault on the ability of you and me and voters in general to exercise the franchise."

In particular, Goddard expressed concern about HB 2305, the election overhaul passed in the closing moments of the session. The bill would have made it a crime for political groups to collect early ballots from voters; made it easier for election officials to remove citizens from the permanent early-voter list; created new barriers to prevent third-party candidates from making the ballot; and made it more difficult for political activists to get an initiative on the ballot.

HB 2305 made a coalition of political groups so angry that they worked to put it on the 2014 ballot so voters could have the final decision on the bill. But before the referendum could go to the ballot, Republicans lawmakers reversed course and repealed the legislation a few weeks ago.

Even with the repeal, however, Goddard remains concerned that provisions of the legislation may resurface during this or future legislative sessions.

"It got repealed not because anybody changed their mind about it but because its supporters were afraid to face the voters," Goddard said. "Doesn't that say a tremendous amount about how nefarious this stuff is?"

The emphasis on protecting voting rights reflects how races for secretary of state are changing around the country. In the past, races for secretary of state in Arizona were often focused on the fact that whoever holds the office ascends to the governor's seat if the governor resigns, is impeached or dies in office. (In Arizona, that has happened three times since the election of Evan Mecham in 1986.)

But officials from the Democratic and Republican parties are recognizing how important the secretary of state's office in any state can be in close races—and in an increasingly polarized country, many races are coming down to the wire. The most famous case was Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certifying George W. Bush as the winner of the 2000 presidential race in her state and ordering a halt to recounts even as the race remained contested in the courts.

Arizona has seen its share of close races in recent years, including the 2012 race between U.S. Rep. Ron Barber and Republican challenger Martha McSally. The vote-counting continued for 10 days after the election and Barber won the race by roughly 2,500 votes.

And in close races like that, it's the secretary of state who decides who can cast a vote (as well as how the votes are counted).

"I want us to put fewer obstacles, not more, in the area of voting," Goddard said. "I think voting is a very important, fundamental right and it shouldn't be turned into a game of elimination."

He also sees his experience in investigating money-laundering cases as attorney general as helpful in untangling the origins of the "dark money"—campaign dollars that are spent by nonprofits with anonymous donors—that is increasingly flowing into Arizona campaigns.

"My investigative background matches well with the needs of dark-money regulation," Goddard said. "The secretary of state ultimately is the one who is going to be the watchdog who will watch political contributions and find out if they are properly reported and see what the source of the money is."

Goddard is the only Democrat in the race; after he announced his plans to run for the office, state Sen. Leah Landrum-Taylor dropped out of the race.

Three Republicans are seeking the seat: state Sen. Michele Reagan, who wrote several of the bills that were tied together as HB 2305, the election-law overhaul that was repealed in recent weeks; state Rep. Justin Pierce, who formally announced his entry into the race last week; and Wil Cardon, who loaned his own campaign more than $8.7 million in an unsuccessful effort to beat fellow Republican Jeff Flake in last year's U.S. Senate race.

Goddard, who is funding his campaign through the Clean Elections program, acknowledged that he could easily be outspent if Cardon emerges from the primary and dumps his own money into the race.

"Even if I wasn't running Clean, I'd never be able to match Cardon's money," Goddard said.

Goddard is aware that even though he's won two statewide elections, some Democrats complain that he's not exciting enough on the stump.

"As my wife tells me, I tend to answer questions in excessive detail because I think details are important," Goddard said. "But she says, 'The only person who is interested is the person who asked you that question. The rest of them want to leave and go have dinner.' So that's a lesson that I still have to learn."

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