For two years while Gov. Fife Symington struggled under bankruptcy and bank fraud charges, Secretary of State Jane Hull walked a tightrope of political grace: supporting the governor while preparing to replace him.
She has spoken only reluctantly about holding the governor’s office and has said little about what she would do there. Symington’s conviction Wednesday and the prospect of her taking office Friday did little to change that.
“I want to reassure Arizonans that I will meet the challenge with great determination, enthusiasm and dedication,” Hull said in a brief statement. Arizona will get as its new governor a pragmatic government veteran, an ambitious but low-key politician who left a career teaching school to win a legislative seat in 1979, rose to power as speaker of the Arizona House, then won the secretary of state’s office in 1994.
Hull, 62, said she considers herself “pretty well versed on the issues” confronting Arizona. Fifteen years in the Legislature have prepared her, as have recent meetings with public and private interest groups seeking the ear of a maybe, someday governor. Over her protests, some of them dubbed her “governor-in-waiting.”
She may try to keep the office she assumes. Hull has said she would seek re-election if she finished out Symington’s term.
In the meantime, she said she planned few changes in the governor’s staff or state agencies.
“Fife and I are both Republicans,” Hull said before the verdict. “Logically this is not a good time to replace agency heads anyway. If something would happen, I would be in the last year of that term.”
Her political colleagues describe Hull as an ardent conservative who moderated her views over her years in state government.
Hull has been tested before, chiefly during her 15 years in the Legislature. She was the third-ranking Republican leader in the House when that chamber went through the tumult of voting to impeach then-Gov. Evan Mecham in 1988.
In 1991, when she was House speaker, she was confronted with the AzScam bribery scandal. Seven legislators were indicted and questions were raised about Hull’s own role.
In an AzScam indictment, a lobbyist said Hull tipped another legislator about the undercover investigation. But a House ethics probe concluded the claim was unfounded and that Hull wouldn’t have even known about the investigation at the time of the tip.
In the aftermath, Hull provided a calming influence among legislators as she and other leaders pushed for ethics reforms, a colleague recalls.
“That’s when I really began to admire her leadership abilities,” said Jack Jewett, a Tucson health-care executive who was Hull’s majority whip in the House. “At that low point, she really began to build some level of confidence.”