The man in charge of running Arizona’s elections has gone to the birthers. Secretary of State Ken Bennett now says he’s not convinced Barack Obama was really born in the United States and so he is threatening to keep the president off the ballot in November.
Bennett’s comments came in an interview late Thursday with conservative radio talk show host Mike Broomhead on Phoenix station KFYI.
Bennett said he was following the lead of the state’s eccentric Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a fellow Republican who ordered an investigation into the president’s birth certificate last year and concluded the document released by the White House is a forgery. Bennett said he is now trying to get verification from state officials in Hawaii that the certificate is authentic.
In doing so, Bennett caved to a fringe group of activists and writers who believe in a conspiracy theory that just never seems to die no matter how much proof they get. Hawaiian officials have said time and again that Obama was born there in 1961, yet the theory persists.
Bennett, the state’s No. 2 elected official just below Gov. Jan Brewer (R), said his investigation isn’t personal. He said the reason he started looking into it is because he got more than 1,200 emails asking him to do so after Arpaio’s investigation came out.
“I’m not a birther. I believe the president was born in Hawaii — or at least I hope he was,” Bennett said on the show. “But my responsibility as secretary of state is to make sure the ballots in Arizona are correct and that those people whose names are on the ballot have met the qualifications for the office they are seeking.”
Bennett’s newfound birtherism also breaks with Brewer, who led the secretary of state’s office in 2008 when Obama last appeared on the Arizona ballot. Brewer said last year that despite her disagreements with Obama, she is fully convinced the president is eligible for office and believes the birth certificate issue is a “huge distraction.”
“It’s just something I believe is leading our country down a path of destruction and it just is not serving any good purpose,” she told CNN’s John King.
Meanwhile, Bennett is hoping to take Brewer’s job when she becomes term limited in two years. The Arizona Capitol Times reported (paywall) earlier this week that he is already collecting signatures to get on the 2014 ballot for governor.
On Thursday, Bennett said he sent his request to Hawaii officials eight weeks ago but has yet to get the proof he was hoping for. He said he didn’t want another copy of the birth certificate. He wants Hawaii to give him what he described as “a verification in lieu of a certified copy of a birth certificate.”
In the weeks since then, Bennett said, Hawaii officials have forced him to provide proof that he is who he says he is. They asked him to send them copies of the Arizona laws that prove the secretary of state really is the person in charge of handling the ballots. Admittedly, Bennett said they told him they were “tired of all the requests.” But he is continuing anyway.
Broomhead, the radio host, pressed Bennett on what he would do if he didn’t get the right response back from Hawaii.
“If they won’t comply, if they refuse to comply with this, will you remove the president from the ballot?” Broomhead asked. “Will you exclude him from the ballot?”
“That’s possible,” Bennett said. “Or the other option would be I would ask all of candidates, including the president, maybe to submit a certified copy of their birth certificate. But I don’t want to do that.”
Listen to the whole interview from KFYI:
Nick Martin is an associate editor at TPM in New York City. He came to the site in 2011 as a reporter for TPMMuckraker. Previously, he worked in Arizona, first as a staff reporter for a local newspaper and later as a freelance journalist. He also ran the news blog Heat City. Contact him: nick [at] talkingpointsmemo.com