Who is Ken Bennett, Arizona's Senate's liaison for the Maricopa County election audit?

Paulina Pineda
Arizona Republic
Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (left) takes custody of a pallet of ballots before an audit of the 2.1 million election ballots at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix on April 22, 2021.

Ken Bennett, who the Arizona Senate named as its liaison for the recount of Maricopa County ballots, is a familiar figure in the state's Republican political circles.

Bennett, an Arizona native, served as Senate president in the early 2000s and later as Secretary of State.

Bennett was largely seen as a moderate during his time in the state Senate and in the early days as Secretary of State, but then he asked Hawaiian officials to verify then-President Barack Obama's birth certificate before placing his name on the 2012 general election ballot. 

He unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014 and 2018.

Bennett said he called Senate President Karen Fann to offer his assistance with the audit, and she asked him to serve as a liaison between the Senate and the private contractors overseeing the audit. The audit, happening at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, began Friday.

Ken Bennett, a former state Senate president and Secretary of State, is the liaison for the recount of Maricopa County ballots.

The 61-year-old Bennett touts that he ran 12 state elections as secretary of state, including Arizona’s only recount of a state election, referring to a statewide ballot measure in 2010.

At a news conference on Tuesday, he praised the "courage" of the state Senate to launch an audit that's "going to help people around this state and around this country know that they have complete confidence in their elections or where they can make them better."

Here’s what to know about Bennett.

Early political years and time in Senate

Bennett grew up in Prescott and helped run his family business, Bennett’s Oil Co., where he worked for more than 20 years.

He stepped onto the political scene in the mid-1980s when he ran for the Prescott City Council, where he served from 1985 to 1989.

A decade later, Bennett served in the state Senate where he represented Prescott from 1999 to 2007 before facing term limits. He was Senate president from 2003 to 2007.

Secretary of State

Bennett was appointed Secretary of State in January 2009 to finish Jan Brewer’s term after she succeeded to the state’s top executive position when Gov. Janet Napolitano resigned to become U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.

He was elected to his first full term in November 2010 and served as Secretary of State until 2015.

In 2012, he infamously refused to place President Obama on the Arizona presidential ballot until he verified that the president was born in the United States.

Bennett requested that Hawaiian officials provide a copy or verification of Obama’s birth certificate proving he was born in the state, further igniting the “birther” controversy and making national headlines. Bennett refuted being a “birther,” saying he was trying to verify the information at the request of a constituent.

Hawaiian officials provided Bennett a "verification of birth" document that verified the information contained in Obama's birth certificate, which his campaign had already publicly released in 2008. 

Bennett bristled over a question about that decade-old controversy on Tuesday. "I am not going to even address that," he said. 

Unsuccessful gubernatorial and congressional campaigns

Bennett ran for governor in a six-way Republican primary in 2014 and finished fourth behind Gov. Doug Ducey and two other candidates.

In 2016, he ran for the U.S. House in Congressional District 1 in a crowded Republican primary where he lost to former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Bennett challenged Ducey for governor in the Republican primary in 2018, jumping into the race in response to Ducey’s teacher pay plan.

He told The Republic at the time that he decided to run after watching Ducey “panicking and flip-flopping” during the teacher walkouts that spring. Ducey’s campaign refused to debate Bennett in the months leading up to the election, calling Bennett a “fringe candidate.”

He lost in the primary election.

Reach reporter Paulina Pineda at paulina.pineda@azcentral.com or 480-389-9637. Follow her on Twitter: @paulinapineda22.

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