PHOENIX — Controversy over President Barack Obama's eligibility to be president flared anew Friday as Democrats criticized an Arizona state official's request for Hawaii officials to confirm they have Obama's birth certificate.
The attorney general's office in the Aloha State responded late Friday that if Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett wants the verification, he'll have to prove he legitimately needs it.
So-called birthers maintain that Obama was born in Kenya, his father's homeland, and his birth certificate must be a fake. The Constitution requires the president and vice president to be natural-born U.S. citizens.
Arizona House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, a Democrat, called Bennett's request for Obama's records "blatant political pandering."
Bennett, an elected Republican, denied that, saying he was responding to constituents' concerns. "I am not a birther," he said.
Bennett had said Thursday during an interview on radio station KFYI that Obama's Arizona ballot status is in question unless and until Hawaii responds positively to his request under a Hawaii law regarding confirmation of birth certificates.
When asked whether a lack of confirmation from Hawaii could keep Obama off the ballot, Bennett told the KFYI interviewer, "That's possible."
Hawaii's health department said its director got Bennett's request in March and forwarded it to the state attorney general's office for a response.
Bennett said earlier Friday that he assumes he'll get confirmation he requested in March from Hawaii officials. "I'm working from the assumption that they will verify it one way or another," he told The Associated Press.
But Joshua Wisch, special assistant to Hawaii Attorney General David Louie, said Bennett hasn't provided the legal basis for his request, despite numerous email and phone exchanges between officials in the two states.
"As soon as Secretary Bennett's office provides adequate legal authority, it will receive the verification," Wisch said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press late Friday.
Hawaii state law requires Bennett to show that his office needs the records to update its official lists as part of its ordinary work, Wisch said.
Bennett's inquiry follows a renewed flurry of questioning about Obama's birthplace. The secretary of state said no candidates will get on Arizona's ballot without submitting forms declaring their eligibility.
"No one is on the ballot yet," he said.
He said "sure" when asked whether the eligibility form alone would be enough to get Obama on the ballot even if Hawaii doesn't respond, but he also said he didn't want to speculate about things that might or might not happen.
The notion that Obama was born abroad is raised regularly by some conservatives in Arizona, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in March released a report from a volunteer posse challenging the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate.
However, Hawaii officials have publicly stated numerous times as early as October 2008 they have Obama's birth certificate, and the White House last year released a copy of Obama's long-form birth certificate in an attempt to quell the issue. Courts also have rebuffed lawsuits over the issue.
A former legislator who is exploring a 2014 candidacy for governor, Bennett said there won't be any political benefit from whatever he does on this issue.
He said his office was fielding numerous calls from people complaining about his request.
On the other side of the issue, "no matter what I do, it won't be enough for the birthers," Bennett said.
Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia in Honolulu contributed to this report.
Hawaii Department of Health page on Obama's birth:
- Dignity Health World Class People. World Class Company. Excellent care, delivered with compassion, for all in need.
- Eyes on Education A view of Arizona's education system from all angles.