Replacing McCain: Sorting Out the Options

The passing of Senator John McCain represents an opportunity for Arizona and for Governor Doug Ducey. McCain was in his sixth term in the senate, but had a decidedly mixed reputation with Arizona Republicans. He faced multiple serious primary challenges from the Right, most recently from former state senator Kelli Ward in 2016 who won the election day vote according to exit polls but could not overcome McCain’s lead in early ballots.

Unlike Barry Goldwater, whom he replaced in the Senate, McCain was out of step of step with Arizona Republicans and with the state in general. He was not an Arizonan by birth and spent only a fraction of his time in the state while representing her, apparently preferring the Beltway environs. It’s no surprise, therefore, that he seemed to represent the interests of the elite ruling class much more vigorously than those of Arizonans. Ducey now has a chance to appoint a replacement who represents Arizona voters and Arizona interests.

What Ducey should not do is engage in saccharine sentimentality or identity politics. Appointing a McCain family member would be a disaster and an affront to self-government. I’ve already heard people referring to this as “the McCain seat.” It is not. It’s the people’s seat, which John McCain held as a steward.

Likewise, some pols have suggested appointing a replacement from a favored minority group, making skin color or race an explicit criteria for appointment. Selecting people for political office on the basis of race is wrong and it not only should be shunned, it should be shamed.

A good replacement for McCain should meet a few common-sense criteria. He or she should be a known quantity personally, politically, and ethically. As with federal judicial appointments, voters will want to know that they are getting a solid Republican who will support the party’s platform. Arizona law requires that the appointment be of the same party as the person being replaced. The appointment should also be someone who wants to and can win re-election in 2020.

There are some excellent choices. Here are a few with that criteria:

U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs is an Arizonan, a Republican’s Republican and a well-known and well-respected freshman Congressman. Biggs served for many years with distinction in the Arizona legislature. He has proven himself an able legislator and a tireless advocate for his constituents and the issues that face the nation.

Karin Taylor Robson has been mentioned frequently. She has been a tireless advocate for Arizona business and has run a successful business focusing on land use and real estate. She is accomplished, articulate, and energetic.

Matt Salmon served five terms in the U.S. House where he was a strong conservative voice and popular in his district. He also served as chairman of the state GOP. At 60, Salmon could serve several terms in the Senate.

Robert S. Graham would be an interesting dark-horse choice. His name has not been mentioned but it should be. He was a successful entrepreneur prior to serving two terms as chairman of the Arizona GOP. During his tenure as party chairman Robert toured the state repeatedly explaining to people why they should become Republicans. And he went outside of Republican safe-spaces. He opened offices on the reservations, in urban cores, everywhere. His results speak for themselves. Party registration increased on his watch and he kept the financial house in order. What’s more Robert’s personal energy and sense of mission would make him a formidable candidate in 2020. Robert was also an early and consistent Trump supporter. (Full Disclosure: Robert and I co-hosted a radio program together.)

There have been other names mentioned. Some have served previously in Congress. They would probably serve with distinction for the next two years but realistically could not serve multiple terms. Age catches up with all of us. Others are barely known, despite having excellent résumés in their fields. Again, as with judicial appointments, Arizona voters deserve an appointment whose positions are well known.

Governor Ducey: Don’t pick a dark-horse who is an unknown commodity. Don’t pick someone because she’s the first this or that. Don’t pick someone because of her surname. And don’t pick someone your campaign consultants tell you will help you with or that demographic in your re-election. It’s not true. You’ll be judged based on what you have done for Arizona and your plans for the future. Don’t overthink it. Arizona has some excellent potential senators. Just pick one of them.

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Photo Credit: Maureen Keating/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

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About Chris Buskirk

Chris is publisher and editor of American Greatness and the host of The Chris Buskirk Show. He was a Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute and received a fellowship from the Earhart Foundation. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold businesses in financial services and digital marketing. He is a frequent guest on NPR's "Morning Edition." His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Hill, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter at @TheChrisBuskirk