Arizona Senate doesn't need to sue Gov. Katie Hobbs. It needs to call off its attack dog

Opinion: Removing the grand inquisitor known as Sen. Jake Hoffman makes more sense than spending money we don't have to sue the governor.

Laurie Roberts
Arizona Republic
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President of the Senate Warren Petersen speaks during an open session on March 20, 2023, at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix.

Open your wallets, Arizona.

Hostilities are about to break out (once again) at the state Capitol, as Arizona’s Republican Legislature (once again) threatens to sue Arizona’s Democratic governor.

This time, over her end run on the law that requires her agency heads to be confirmed by the Senate.

The two sides have been at war from the moment Gov. Katie Hobbs defeated Kari Lake and the MAGA crowd took control of the Legislature.

In Hobbs’ first week in office, the Arizona Freedom Caucus threatened to sue her because she dared to issue an executive order reinforcing nondiscrimination laws for LGBTQ state employees and contractors. An order, I might add, that is similar to orders issued by the two previous Republican governors.

Committee was set up to thwart Hobbs

But because it was Hobbs, it was suddenly an outrage.

If Katie Hobbs wants to legislate, she needs to get her butt out of the Governor’s Office and run for the Legislature and come back and join us and do that job,” Sen. Jake Hoffman, the Queen Creek Republican and fake elector who chairs the caucus of hard-right legislators, said during a Jan. 10 press conference.

Hoffman also vowed to “stand in her way in every step of the process” if she continued to issue executive orders.

And he did.

Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, set up a special committee to vet all of Hobbs’ appointments — dumping the decades-long process that assigned standing committees to vet candidates appointed to agencies within their area of oversight.

The Senate Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee, for example, would consider the nominee to head the state Department of Water Resources.

Confirmation hearings were inquisitions

Petersen instead set up the Senate Committee on Director Nominations. Then he tapped his protégé, Hoffman, to serve as chief saboteur … er, I mean, chairman.

Hoffman’s hearings were more like inquisitions, as Hobbs’ nominees were grilled not so much on their qualifications but on their political leanings. His delight was evident as he rejected three of her appointees and declined even to schedule hearings for at least a dozen more.

The power to sabotage your political enemies, after all, is a heady thing — never mind the damage done to the state of Arizona.

Consider what happened with Hobbs’ first pick to run the state Department of Health Services, a $900 billion agency that oversees everything from public health to the licensing and oversight of nursing homes and child care centers to the operation of the Arizona State Hospital.

Republicans sabotaged a qualified pick

Dr. Theresa Cullen had the support of the medical community and with 27 years in health care and public health, the clear credentials to do the job.

In addition to being a family practice doctor, she’s run a maternity Ebola clinic in Sierra Leone and served 25 years in the U.S. Public Health Service, where she rose to the rank of rear admiral and assistant surgeon general and worked for both the Veterans Health Administration and the Indian Health Services.

She now runs Pima County’s Health Department, where she played a key role in the county’s response to COVID-19. Pima County, by the way, had had the third-lowest rate of infection in the state on her watch and the second-lowest death rate, according to DHS data.

She just wasn’t prepared to undergo a three-and-a-half hour grilling by Hoffman and a political panel that was positively delighted to stick it to the state’s first Democratic governor in 14 years.

Hobbs came unarmed:To a fight with the Senate

Apparently, a science-based approach to the job made her too “extreme” (to use Hoffman’s word) to be the state’s health director.

So, now DHS is run by acting director Jennie Cunico, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in marriage counseling. She’s been at DHS since 2014, serving for most of that time as deputy bureau chief of public health emergency preparedness.

Ducey named an interim during COVID

In the end, the Senate consented to just six of Hobbs’ two dozen or so nominees, who can serve only a year without Senate confirmation.

So Hobbs went on the offensive, promptly reappointing 13 of her agency heads as “executive assistant directors” who need no Senate approval. It’s clearly thumbing the nose at both state law and the Senate, but she’s not the first governor to do it.

Gov. Doug Ducey appointed an interim director to run DHS for well over a year in the aftermath of COVID-19. He was never confirmed and Republican legislators never squawked.

Now, you have a Democratic governor doing essentially the same thing in an effort to ensure the smooth operation of state government and suddenly the sky is falling.

“We have the lawsuit ready,” Petersen told The Arizona Republic’s Ray Stern this week. “Probably be dropping it pretty soon here.”

Do we really need, or want, a lawsuit?

Petersen is right on the law. The Senate is charged with consenting to a governor's choice to lead a state agency.

But Hobbs is also right on the need for stability in state government.

You can’t run a state with what amounts to temps — not well, anyway — and you can forget about hiring the cream of the crop. Who would take the job, knowing that a trip fantastic before Hoffman’s inquisition squad awaited them?

But a lawsuit, Sen. Petersen?

One for which taxpayers will foot the bill for both sides? At a time when the state already has a $400 million deficit?

Our leaders don’t need to be suing each other (especially on our dime). What we need is a marriage counselor. Or … dare I say it? … a compromise.

Here's a better way to resolve this

Hobbs should halt her cheeky end run on the law and appoint the best picks she can find to oversee transportation and prisons and public health and such.

And Petersen should defang Hoffman — either by putting someone more mature into the job of vetting Hobbs’ nominees or returning to the process of old, where gubernatorial nominees are considered by the standing Senate committees best schooled in the subject matter.

Fair-minded senators of good will who (hopefully) are more interested in serving the state than serving their own self interest.

If you don’t have any of those, Sen. Petersen, then perhaps consider running the process yourself.

You don’t need a lawsuit, sir. You just need to call off Hoffman.

Reach Roberts at Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, at @LaurieRoberts or on Threads at @laurierobertsaz.

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