Arizona’s Napolitano Signals She Won’t Step Down Soon as Governor

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano indicated she won’t step down as governor right away even though she’s reportedly President-elect Barack Obama’s primary choice for Homeland Security secretary.

Napolitano wouldn’t tell reporters at an event welcoming Arizona Army National Guard troops home from Iraq whether she’s been offered or accepted the Homeland Security post. Quoting Obama advisers and other anonymous sources, The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported that Napolitano is Obama’s leading choice for Homeland Security secretary.

“I think it’s premature and presumptuous to comment before there’s an actual announcement from Chicago,” Napolitano said, referring to Obama’s home and where he is working while he prepares to become president. “The thing to do is to wait for the president’s formal announcement.”

But she discussed current circumstances in Arizona, including a state budget crisis. Napolitano could call a special legislative session next month to close part of a projected $1.2 billion shortfall in the current $9.9 billion budget.

She said she would remain governor through at least initial work on the budget shortfall.

“Oh yes, even hypothetically if I were to accept a Cabinet position, you know, confirmation would not occur … you wouldn’t actually become the Cabinet secretary until after the inauguration. That’s not until the end of January,” Napolitano said.

Napolitano then was asked specifically whether she would remain governor until confirmed. “Again, let’s take it one step at a time,” she replied.

At a later event, Napolitano said she was concentrating on state issues amid all the speculation about her future.

“It’s an odd space to be in, no doubt,” she told reporters after addressing a growth planning conference. “I’m really trying to be very disciplined and focused on what we’re doing for Arizona.”

After the earlier Guard event, she reiterated that she and legislative leaders “have made substantial progress for agreement on legislation that would take a chunk out of the ’09 deficit.”

She also said more than one special session could be needed “because it’s such a fluid situation.”

“We’ll see in the next week or so whether we can nail that down. But in the meantime, we continue to restrict spending and review every contract over $50,000 and maintain the hiring freeze, so that spending is slowing significantly,” she added.

The Democratic governor did not elaborate on the possibility of more than one special session of the Republican-led Legislature, but she and key lawmakers have indicated that a December special session would be for approval of a partial fix to the shortfall.

That could set the stage for a second special session to be held concurrently with the 2009 regular legislative session that begins Jan. 12.