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Hobbs disagrees with judge’s ruling on confirmation of agency directors

Posted 6/12/24

PHIOENIX — Gov. Katie Hobbs is spurning a suggestion by a judge that she work out her differences with the Senate over the confirmation of her agency directors.

“It is not possible …

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Hobbs disagrees with judge’s ruling on confirmation of agency directors


PHIOENIX — Gov. Katie Hobbs is spurning a suggestion by a judge that she work out her differences with the Senate over the confirmation of her agency directors.

“It is not possible at this point,” the governor said Tuesday when asked if she will try to make a deal with Senate President Warren Petersen after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney ruled she had broken the law by not submitting the names of agency chiefs to the Senate for confirmation. Instead, Hobbs vowed to appeal, a process that could take months.

In his ruling, the judge said it was clear that the governor was trying to run state agencies with “executive deputy directors.” That, Blaney said, ignored legal requirements to have a director in charge of each agency — and, more to the point, one who actually had been reviewed and confirmed by the Senate.

Hobbs blamed it on Petersen and, more specifically, Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, whom the Senate president had tapped to head a special committee to review the governor’s nominees. Hoffman grilled some nominees and refused to consider others.

“This was the chaos created by Jake Hoffman’s sham committee that he’s using to inflict his radical political agenda on Arizonans,” the governor said Tuesday.

So she instead tried a maneuver of withdrawing all of her pending nominations and instead naming each of her picks as executive deputy directors. Hobbs said that was the only way to ensure there was someone of her choosing in charge at each agency and that they continued to function.

Hobbs, through her attorney, had made the same argument to Blaney. The judge, however, was unimpressed.

“The governor’s frustration with a co-equal branch of government — even if that frustration was justified — did not exempt her director nominees from Senate oversight,” he wrote.

Whether Blaney agrees to let Hobbs continue for months with what he ruled is an illegal process while she appeals is unclear.

In his ruling last week, the judge said he will set aside time in late July or early August to hear arguments about whether he should order Hobbs to comply.

“This will give these co-equal branches of government an opportunity to meet and confer in an attempt to reach a mutually agreeable resolution of this dispute,” Blaney wrote.

But the judge warned that, absent an agreement, he could issue a writ of mandamus — an order directing Hobbs to comply with a law in which she has no discretion.

Even with that, the governor, however, said she won’t consider making a deal with Petersen to find some way to get her nominees confirmed but still allows senators to ask the questions they want answered from her picks.

“This is not what Arizonans want,” she said. “We’re going to ensure that government can continue despite the circus that they’ve created in the Senate.”

Petersen, for his part, said he believes as deal could be reached.

“We were always willing to work with them,” he said of the governor and her administration.

Hobbs, however, is focused not just on the immediate fight but also being sure gubernatorial powers are protected.

“What they’ve done is unprecedented with director nominations,” she said.

It is true that Petersen, in creating the Director Nominations Committee, created a new system.

Until last year — when Democrat Hobbs took office — each governor’s picks would be reviewed by an existing committee with some expertise in the area.

That would have meant that the choice by Hobbs of Jennifer Toth to head the Department of Transportation would have gone to the Senate Transportation and Technology Committee.

Instead, it went to Hoffman’s panel. And he asked her about things like what she thought about the roles of racism in road construction decisions and of toxic masculinity in accidents.

Toth, who had been director of the Maricopa County Transportation Department, responded that it is her job to adopt the policies set out by the governor and the Legislature. And she said her feelings aren’t relevant.

“This committee is here to evaluate you,” Hoffman shot back. “And I feel that it’s relevant, which is why I’m asking the questions.”

Unable to get a vote before the Senate, Toth for the moment serves as ADOT’s executive deputy director under the procedure that Blaney found illegal.

Others who went before Hoffman’s panel were rejected outright.

One was Theresa Cullen, the governor’s choice to head the Arizona Department of Health Services, got similar treatment.

During the committee hearing, Hoffman repeatedly berated her and the actions she had taken as Pima County health chief during the height of the COVID pandemic, like an overnight curfew and masking requirements. Cullen said she was simply advising county supervisors who made the final decision.

Hoffman took after her about the closing of schools, brushing aside her claims that those calls were made by district officials.

“Under your guidance, they (students) suffered innumerable harm in terms of lack of proficiency in school, academic scores falling, socialization being reduced, depression, suicide,” he said. And Hoffman said it turned out that children were the least likely to suffer the worst effects of the virus.

Cullen defended her actions, saying she was not only erring on the side of protecting children but also trying to keep them from bringing the virus home to more vulnerable adults.

Hoffman’s committee voted 3-2 to reject her, though by that time Hobbs, sensing the loss, withdrew her name from consideration. The agency is now run by Jennie Cunico as executive deputy director — at least until the litigation is resolved.