Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 22, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

Debate: Candidates for Secretary of State

  |   Video
  • A half-hour Clean Elections debate featuring the candidates for Secretary of State; Ken Bennett (R) and Chris Deschene (D).
Guests:
  • Ken Bennett
  • Chris Deschene
Category: Vote 2010

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening and welcome to this special edition of "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Tonight's show is a debate sponsored by the Citizens' Clean Elections Commission. We'll hear from the candidates for secretary of state, an office that's next in line to succeed the governor. As with all of "Horizon's" debates, this is not a formal exercise. It's an open exchange of ideas, an opportunity for give-and-take between candidates for one of the state's most important offices. As such, interjections and even interruptions are allowed, provided that all sides get a fair shake. We'll do our best to see that happens. The candidates for secretary of state are, in alphabetical order -- Republican Ken Bennett, the current secretary of state. He was appointed to that post by Governor Brewer. He's a former state lawmaker who served as senate president. The democratic candidate is Chris Deschene. He's a member of the Navajo nation and an attorney who currently serves as a state lawmaker. Each candidate will have one minute for opening and closing statements. Earlier, we drew numbers to determine the order, and Chris Deschene goes first.

Chris Deschene:
Thank you, Ted. My name is Chris Deschene and I'm a member of the Navajo nation, I'm running for secretary of state because I believe that Arizona needs strong people who are independent thinkers and have a balanced vision for our future-- and I come from a family of marines and my grandfather who served proudly during World War II as a code talker helped instill the basic values of service, hard work and education. Today, I'm a husband and a father of two young boys and a graduate of the United States naval academy in Annapolis and served with honorable service as an executive for a recon company and I came home to Arizona state and pursued a joint law degree in law and masters -- pursued a joint degree with a law and master's in engineering with a focus on renewable energy. I'm working very hard to earn not only your trust and confidence and I believe I have the qualifications and experience and vision to serve as your secretary of state.

Ted Simons:
And now a one-minute opening statement from Ken Bennett.

Ken Bennet:
Good evening, thank you for tuning in. I think this election is about judgment and experience. First about my background. I'm a husband and a father, my wife and I have three grown children and one grandson, almost one year old. I served our family business and even other companies for many years in the private sector so I've run companies and understand the challenges Arizona faces on a daily basis and doing the things that make our economy run and I've served for 25 years in a variety of public service from the Prescott city council to eventually president of the state senate. As I mentioned, I think this is about judgment and experience, the ability to demonstrate judgment in making sure that our elections are secure. And that your vote is protected by making sure only U.S. citizens are allowed to register and that the identification requirements that voters have passed are followed at the ballot box as well.

Ted Simons:
Thank you. Let's get it going, Ken, we'll start with you. Why are you running for this office?

Ken Bennet:
The main reason is to protect the integrity of every Arizonan's vote. And I mentioned in the opening, I think probably the two most important ways to do that is to make sure that only U.S. citizens are allowed to register to vote and that we follow the voter-approved state laws that when you do show up at the polls, you show the identification and make sure that the voting system operates fairly and accurately and openly and the secretary, even though she or he serves as the chief elections officer, state law says all of that infrastructure, the equipment and all of that is owned at local county level so it means developing a good working relationship with all of our county recorders and election officials. My main focus is to protect the integrity of every Arizonan's vote.

Ted Simons:
Chris, why are you running for this office?

Chris Deschene:
I believe we need independent thinkers. My personal experience with the secretary of state's office is that we need to have a leader who has the vision to be inclusive, protect the integrity of our elections as well as work to ensure we have an open, fair and transparent office. Arizona has given me many opportunities and I want to give back in the sense that I feel my life long experiences and my service in the marine corps and an attorney and state representative and a small business owner has given me the tools to actually do a great job in addressing not only this vision, but solving the problems with the office.

Ted Simons:
With that vision, does that mean you see a problem in those areas as the office is run right now?

Chris Deschene:
When it comes to the primary duty of chief elections officer, I think one of the major problems I think I want to highlight is we recently had the green party scandal and to me, that was an affront to the integrity of our elections and we need somebody who I believe has the strength, to basically say, look, there's something going on here, we need to reassure the voters in Arizona and ensure this doesn't happen and we don't have a mockery of our election system because a few individuals taking advantage of the election code.

Ted Simons:
Was that a mockery what happened with the green candidates?

Ken Bennet:
I don't think so. What the secretary of state's office is supposed to do is follow the law. And we did. And we accepted the filings and when it was discovered or alleged that some of them have been recruited, that went to a judge, and the judge decided that the only candidate that deserved to be excluded from the ballot was one that had already resigned. The other candidates who were on the ballot were ones that he said should be on the ballot. And so I think -- I think my opponent unfortunately has a misunderstanding of the role of the office. We should not be applying some arbitrary or capricious test to decide who gets to be on the ballot. The voters decide who will represent them and not be decided by a politician who is trying to keep someone on or off the ballot.

Ted Simons:
How do you respond to that?

Chris Deschene:
The court on September 14th replied, under the ruling, based on the evidence presented, the court has no hesitation in finding that each of these candidates were recruited in bad faith with the purpose of confusing the voting public. Ken, I respectfully disagree with your last statements. The secretary of state's sole responsibility is to administer fair elections for the Arizona voters. The green party scandal highlighted a failed leader on the secretary of state's part. Here we had a fraud of our elections system and under the law, there were three options you could have taken. As early as July 15th, could have referred this to the attorney general when you discovered the filings. And then after August 24th, you could have referred it again to the attorney general's based upon the one vote that each of these candidates were getting. At the very minimum, I believe that there should have been a press conference to assure the voters that there was something happening and then to insure the voters about this issue.

Ted Simons:
Two possible referrals to the attorney general's office. A press conference -- options?

Ken Bennet:
Again, I think there's a fundamental misunderstanding on Chris' part. It's not the role of the secretary of state to investigate whether this person has the full support of the party. The responsibility of the secretary of state's office and what the staff did was to accept the filings and make sure that the people have filed those. The judge said he didn't like the recruiting aspect and I don't like it either, but he then fold up apt fundamental ruling he issued, the only person he would have excluded had already withdrawn from the ballot and the four whose names were on the ballot, should be on the ballot.

Ted Simons:
You're saying it's not within your purview to investigate possible fraud?

Ken Bennet:
No, we don't do the investigation, we can refer things over to the attorney general's office. But it's not the role of the secretary of state to dig into whether or not somebody has the full support of the party that they're running for. If we'd done what Chris wanted to do, people would have been left of the ballot, as he suggested, should have been done, and then the judge would have -- as he did ruled -- we would have been a big are fraud then.

Ted Simons:
Is the preemption plans, that one that could be a abuse of power?

Chris Deschene:
No, first let me respond to the law, if there's a reasonable cause to believe a person is violating any provision of the law, the secretary of state shall notify the attorney general for violations regarding a statewide office or legislate. So that's your authority, Ken, United States the ability do that, and you didn't. Either you didn't understand the law or there was a conflict of interest, which would have benefited by. To peek to the issue of these individuals, I would say let them defraud the fraud in court. This was a sham, an tack on the integrity of our elections.

Ted Simons:
They did and the court made its rulings, so –

Chris Deschene:
So the court said these folks were there to confuse the voting public. At the minimum, we should have protected the integrity of the elections. That's why we have a chief elections officer. To ensure we have fair elections and a leader strong enough to say at minimum, we in-- assure the Arizona voting public.

TEd Simons:
Respond please/

Ken Bennet:
16645 which says if people file the appropriate paperwork to be on the ballot, their names appear as write-in candidates. The number of votes they have to receive is low for parties trying to maintain ballot status. Some of the smaller party, but all of those candidate it's what Chris alleges we should have ensured. They obeyed the law as far as getting their name on the ballot and that's what we did. And the judge eventually upheld the only one that should have been disqualified had withdrawn already and the ones whose names will be on the ballot should be on the ballot.

Ted Simons:
Last point. You need one write-in vote to get -- I should ask whether you agree with that statute. They got the write-in vote, the judge says it's ok, if it's ok for the judge, why not you?

Chris Deschene:
I think this highlights another problem with the secretary of state's office in the sense that in addition to alerting our voting public and reassuring, there was no backup plan. When I served in the marine corps, we had basic teaching. Two is one and one is none. And this highlighted that we don't have a backup plan. First, we could have said, look, the issue, Ken, you highlighted in the provision, yes, it defines the requirements but part of the press conference would be let's see how we can solve this issue.

Ted Simons:
Last question: Looking back, would you, could you have handled it differently?

Ken Bennet:
I don't know. I don't think it was the responsibility of us to start investigating into areas, the only -- the main investigation and the main criteria that we were responsible for ensuring was that they complied with the law when they brought in their nomination papers to have their names appear on the ballot as a write-in candidate. Other than that would be a bigger sham where a politician decided who can be on the ballot because I think or don't think these people represent the party they say they're coming from.

Ted Simons:
Should that one vote requirement change?

Ken Bennet:
I think it's too low.

Ted Simons:
What do you think, Chris?

Chris Deschene:
I think we need to change it.

Ok.

Chris Deschene:
But until we do, and if Chris -- we obey the state law and that's the focus of what our office is supposed to do.

Ted Simons:
I'm lying to myself. Is it not the role of the secretary of state to alert the public. Some funny business might be going on here?

Ken Bennet:
That occurred almost immediately because of others, the democratic party and green party, who immediately responded in a very public way that these were not candidates that were supported by their party. So that's -- I think they played the role they were supposed to play and one of the parties brought it to the court who decided the people on the ballot should have been on the ballot.

Ted Simons:
Last word on that?

Chris Deschene:
Ken, you did not assure the voting public and to me, it's a failure of leadership. Simply put.

Ted Simons:
Should have Arizona have a lieutenant governor's position? You guys are next in line here. Whoever wins will be next it line to be governor. Obviously, there's something on the ballot and we have -- we'll be discussing that particular proposition on a later "Horizon" show. But should there be a lieutenant governor position in Arizona?

Ken Bennet:
we have a position, but we call it the secretary of state and the voters will decide on November 2nd whether they want to change the title to lieutenant governor and whether they want to connect them so they run as a team. As the chief elections official, I don't think it's appropriate I take a position for or against that, I'm going to leave that to the voters.
I think anything that does help the voter, remember, that that position, whatever you call it, is second in line to be the governor, if something happens to the governor, would be good project.

Chris Deschene:
I'm opposed for two reasons. One, it creates a conflict of interest and I think, second, it disenfranchises Arizona's independent voters. The proposition as it's worded forces the chief elections officer to run on a ticket with a gubernatorial candidate. To me, this is a conflict of interest, because we have the chief elections officer overseeing the election. I think it particularly arises when we have close elections.

Ken Bennet:
And if he oppose it, I don't think you should have voted for it when it was in the house of representatives, which he did.

Ted Simons:
Did you vote for it?

Chris Deschene:
I voted for it and the reason why, this is a constitution issue and I believe the Arizona voters should have the right to say how they're going to change the seventh second highest seat in their state.

Ken Bennet:
If he felt there was a conflict of interest one the bill, he should not have voted for it to put the people in that situation of having to make a decision on that conflict of interest. I don't think that's leadership.

Ted Simons:
Last response on that?

Chris Deschene:
It's a constitutional issue, the proposition as stated and as a citizen, creates a conflict of interest for future races and let me add one more thing. No other state in the union does something like this. The only other state that does something like this is the state of Utah.

Ted Simons:
Let me move on to that point. Should the next in line to be governor be the secretary of state? The chief elections officer of the state? Should that be the case?


Chris Deschene:
That's the way our constitution is written and we've seen the Ascension of several secretaries of state. I think we're up to five now in the sense of this provision. I think what the draft of our constitution tried to look at a line of succession. And we need to assure that we have strong leaders qualified not only to serve as secretary of state but if need be, step up to the plate and be our governor.

Ted Simons:
Should the next in line be from this particular office, and if so?

Ken Bennet:
The next in line needs to be known to the voters as to who is next in line. As much as I respect Chris' service and many of his accomplishment, he's asking to be elevated to the second highest office in the state and during last year as a representative in the house of representatives, he missed over 34% of his votes. The worst voting attendance record in the legislature and the voters of his district entrusted him with their voice to represent them in the legislature and he did not show up for over one-third of the time. Anyone asking to be the secretary of state I think deserves -- or owes it to their voters to show up and do their job.

Ted Simons:
How do you respond to that?

Chris Deschene:
Listen, I know what it means to have a commitment as a marine, I have protected that responsibility and served my duty. So Ken, you know this as a senate president. When the leadership decided to suspend the rules in order to eliminate the notice requirement and votes are cast to embarrass key representatives and when I'm serving in my district which happens to be six hours away, that's the net effect of it. When it comes to the suspension of rules by the leadership who happen to be members of your party, I think we set up situations like this. And from my part, I've been there for key votes to ensure I'm conserving my constituents.

Ken Bennet:
Well, I don't think -- I don't think missing over one-third of the votes that he's responsible forecasting on behalf of the voters that elect him is strong leadership or working hard or any one of the several other characteristics he was referring to and I disagree and think you failed the voters of your district, Chris.

Chris Deschene:
I respectfully disagree.

Ted Simons:
We'll move on from there. This is a chief elections officer of the state. How would you improve? Let's start with you. How would you improve the way elections are conducted in Arizona?

Chris Deschene:
There are several things we need to look at. When it comes to the integrity of our election, we need a leader and not stand on the sidelines, but when it comes to being inclusive, there are a number things. The state has the ability to change where the ballots are cast. Right now we have ballots cast in precincts and we can expand that to a jurisdictional level to say that ballots cast are valid if we expand it to the counties. That's a proposal that would expand that. We have to take a hard look at how we have notice requirements when voters fall off the rolls and that's a function of our database. Plus I think we need to look at certain communities and population, namely students and in the sense that they are traveling from all over the state to the cities. And when we have such students on early vote lists, there there's a question whether they can follow them. We put them in a tough situation, especially when this comes to elections of them returning to their home sites in order to cast ballots.

Ted Simons:
Ideas for improving elections in Arizona?

Ken Bennet:
One thing, voting centers. Instead of only being able to vote in the specific and one and only precinct you're assigned and wonder if they've moved it and you show up and you're not on the list and where's the next one. If the voters in a county were on an electronic voting register and any voter from the county can show up at any voting center and a ballot for local elections could be printed and they could participate instead of running all over trying to find the one and only precinct they're assigned to -- and that's one area.

Ted Simons:
What did you think of Ken's idea?

Chris Deschene:
Voter centers are a good idea. Based on the economy and the budget, we have to investigate that. There's a question of how we'll pay for that. It's toot issue when this comes to federal dollars. Under the help America vote act we have dollars that are depleting in the sense that those moneys are running out. When it comes to vote center, there's infrastructure requirements. The T1 lines that go to support the vote centers. That's a cost. And we have to be careful when we look at vote centers for rural parts of the state if we have transportation requirements for communities that don't have the immediate means of getting to the vote centers.

Ted Simons:
The expanding jurisdiction aspect. Your thoughts there?

Ken Bennet:
I'm not clear what he means by that. By saying you can expand the jurisdiction would play havoc with the fact that voters have to be assigned to specific jurisdictions. So that if they live in a city council district, they get to vote on a ballot for that district. If they live in a particular school district, they have to be kept within that jurisdiction. I'm not clear at all what he means we expand the jurisdictions.

Ted Simons:
It sounds like both of you aren't sure whether your opponent's ideas are feasible?

Ken Bennet:
With all due respect, I just don't understand what he means by expanding these jurisdictions when that's how you put voters into certain area so they get to vote for the positions they're supposed to vote for.

Ted Simons:
Quickly, explain.

Chris Deschene:
A number of states do this. They expand a ballot that would count instead of just being in your precinct. As long as you're in the same county, you cast your ballot and the county counts that and if you happen to be working in the west valley but live in the east valley, you don't have to be in the east valley to cast your vote. You would cast it at work at the end of the day, tabulated and count toward your precinct.

Ted Simons:
The concept that vote centers may not be technologically feasible.

Ken Bennet:
They're not. They're being -- we have the technology with on-demand printers.

Ted Simons:
Do we have the money?

Ken Bennet:
Absolutely. It saves money by being able to consolidate and allow people to vote at any one of several hundred voting centers.

Ted Simons:
We have to stop and each candidate delivers a one-minute closing statement and going in reverse order, we start with Ken Bennett.

Ken Bennet:
Thank you, Ted, and thank you, viewers for watching. As I mentioned in the opening, this election coming down to judgment and experience. I also think it is important to have noted that unfortunately, my opponent when entrusted with the job that he currently has, missed over a third of the votes on behalf of his constituents. I think it was also poor judgment to have voted -- found time to vote against S.B. 1070, which has been an important issue in Arizona and is supported by almost 70% of the state. It comes down to judgment and experience as to who has the character and commitment to be on the job, and to do the job, to follow the law, and to have the experience to be ready to step in to the governor's seat if that necessity arrives. Thank you and I ask for your vote.

Ted Simons:
Thank you very much. And which one-minute closing statement from Chris Deschene.

Chris Deschene:
Thank you, Ted. When it comes to your definition of character and judgment, serving in the marines, basically puts that to rest. We have a belief that getting the job done. I think it's laughable that you call me out on my service as a state representative when I've done my work. Especially your time in service, I would label that as being a career politician. But let me get back to what I believe in. I believe in the state. I believe in Arizona. I recognize we have our challenges and I believe we have the opportunity going forward. Arizona has given me many opportunities and I look forward to giving back. As I marine, veteran and a state representative, and an attorney and engineer and small business owner. I will apply and work hard to bring honorable government. I'm Chris Deschene, please vote for me on November 2nd.

Ted Simons:
Thank you, candidates.

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