Hull prepared to succeed Symington, end uncertainty

September 4, 1997

By PAUL DAVENPORT
Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — For two years while Gov. Fife Symington struggled under bankruptcy and charges of bank fraud, Secretary of State Jane Hull walked a political tightrope: supporting the governor while preparing to replace him.

On Friday, she assumes the state’s top office, taking over from Symington, who was convicted Wednesday on seven counts.

“I am ready,” Hull said this morning in an interview with KTVK-TV. “I think my first real desire is to get out among the people in Arizona and my second is to do what’s right for Arizona.”

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.”

“It’s difficult, but you know you find yourself having been in that saddle for 15 years as a legislator, you find yourself thinking, `Well, the issues haven’t changed that much. They’ve gotten a little more complicated.’ And it all comes back,” Hull said.

Hull had said she would seek re-election as governor if she finished out Symington’s term, though she declined to commit to a campaign today.

“I’m sure you’ll hear an announcement within a month,” she told KTVK.

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.”

Born in Kansas City, Hull got her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Kansas. She and her husband left Kansas in 1962 after hearing then-U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater speak and deciding that Arizona would be a good place to live.

Hull got involved with politics on a grass-roots level, first serving as a precinct committeewoman and as a deputy registrar, then won a House seat in 1978.

Hull’s conservatism in early years in the Legislature had moderated by the time the speaker’s post became available in political fallout from the Mecham impeachment.

“When you go into leadership you realize you represent the whole state,’ she said in a January interview. “You don’t just represent that district any more, and you have to be (aware) of what the members’ constituents want, not only what your constituents want, and you’ve got to balance it.”

Senate Minority Whip Pete Rios, who was president of the Senate when Democrats controlled that chamber in the early 1990s, said Hull was “rather conservative but amenable to change if you convince and persuade her with facts.”

“I would say that I’m very much of a consensus builder,” she told KTVK-TV today. “I’m in some areas getting criticized for that. But my feeling has always been that I’d rather bring a lot of people into the room and talk and issue out if we can solve it.”

After stepping down as speaker in 1992, Hull served an additional year in the Legislature before resigning to run for the job of secretary of state, the official who runs elections and other matters. In 1994, she became the first woman elected to that office.