Arizona’s top election official said in a radio interview Thursday that it’s “possible” President Obama may not make the state’s November ballot due to unanswered questions about his birth certificate.
Ken Bennett, a Republican who is eyeing a bid to succeed Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in 2014, told conservative radio host Mike Broomhead that he is “not playing to the birthers.”
“I’m not a birther,” Bennett said in the interview on KFYI. “I believe that the president was born in Hawaii — or at least, I hope he was.”
But he added: “My responsibility as secretary of state is to make sure that the ballots in Arizona are correct and that those people whose names are on the ballot have met the qualifications of the office they are seeking.”
The radio interview followed a Phoenix New Times report that Bennett had corresponded with WorldNetDaily’s Jerome Corsi regarding the birth certificate issue.
According to the text of an e-mail from Bennett to Corsi, confirmed by the secretary of state’s office to the Phoenix New Times, Bennett had written that “if Hawaii can’t or won’t provide verification of the president’s birth certificate, I will not put his name on the ballot.”
Corsi, along with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has been among the leading voices pushing the conspiracy theory that Obama was not born in the United States.
The Obama campaign criticized Bennett’s request for birth verification as another example of how the president’s presumptive Republican rival, Mitt Romney, “has pandered to the far-right of his party.” Bennett is the Arizona co-chairman of the Romney campaign.
“Secretary of State Bennett’s flirtation with a conspiracy theory that has been debunked time and time again will have no bearing on the election, but it does present an opportunity for Mitt Romney to finally rise to the occasion and denounce the extreme voices in his party,” the Obama campaign’s Arizona communications director, Mahen Gunaratna, said in a statement Friday evening.
The remarks by Bennett are far from the first time that the birther issue has found its way to the forefront of Arizona politics — and past birther episodes in the state are a reminder that it’s not certain Bennett would have the authority to keep a candidate off the ballot to begin with.
Last year, the state House and Senate approved a measure requiring presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship in order to appear on the Arizona ballot. The bill would have granted the secretary of state the authority to decide whether a candidate has provided sufficient proof.
Brewer vetoed the bill, H.B. 2177, arguing in her veto letter that the measure “creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona.” She has also openly criticized birtherism in the past, telling CNN in an interview last spring that the movement is a “huge distraction.”
This past March, some state GOP lawmakers moved to introduce a new version of the measure that they contend addresses Brewer’s concerns. But questions about the constitutionality of such a measure remain.
In Thursday’s radio interview with Broomhead, Bennett said that after Arpaio held a press conference in March calling for a federal investigation into whether Obama’s birth certificate was forged, the secretary of state’s office received “literally over 1,200 e-mails” from people calling for the president to produce his original birth certificate in order for his name to appear on the November ballot.
Bennett told Broomhead that he responded to those e-mails by noting that it’s not possible to get the original copy of Obama’s birth certificate — or even of his own birth certificate, for that matter — but that he would request officials in the state of Hawaii to “verify” that they had a birth certificate in their records for Obama.
“Essentially if they can’t say yes to that simple question, it makes me wonder if we have to take it to another level,” Bennett said.
He added that Hawaii officials had responded with a request of their own, asking Bennett to cite the state laws authorizing him to make such a request. Bennett said his office responded via e-mail and that he has not heard back from Hawaii officials for two months.
“All they’ve got to do is e-mail me back saying ‘yes’ and it’s over,” he said. “But they haven’t for eight weeks, and I’m just stunned that they’re making this so hard.”
Asked by Broomhead whether he would move to prevent Obama’s name from appearing on the November ballot, Bennett replied, “That’s possible.”
“Or, the other option would be I would ask all of the candidates, including the president, maybe to submit a certified copy of their birth certificate,” he said. “But I don’t want to do that. We want to do everything as much the same as we have.”