PHOENIX – A Queen Creek lawmaker has been named to lead a new Senate committee after Republicans this week scrapped decades of precedent and set up a different process to confirm Gov. Katie Hobbs' agency nominees.
The change, which came on a party-line vote, creates a new five-member committee to screen all those the new governor has tapped to run state agencies. That abandons the practice of having agency nominees reviewed by the standing committee whose members have some expertise in each area.
The move follows what Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said has been the failure of the new governor to "promptly'' send the Senate the names of the people she has tapped to run state agencies. He said of the 26 appointments she has made, only two have been submitted for the required Senate confirmation.
"Those people are collecting a taxpayer paycheck,'' said Hoffman, who has been named to chair the new panel of three Republicans and two Democrats.
"They are executing changes within that department, ushering in new policies,'' he said in a floor speech. "And none of us in the legislative branch, the check on the executive branch, none of us have any insight into what they're doing and whether they're qualified to make those decisions.''
What Hoffman did not say is that it has been a practice for years for the Republican-controlled Senate to allow nominations from Republican governors to languish without committee review, much less a floor vote, for weeks or months at a time.
"This is not how adults work together,'' complained Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, of the new procedure. "This is literally playground retaliation.''
Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, conceded that Republicans are handling Hobbs' nominations different than they did with her immediate predecessor, Republican Doug Ducey. But he told Capitol Media Services there is a reason for that.
"Ducey actually talked to us,'' Petersen said.
"Ducey actually let us know who they were,'' he said. "Ducey actually had some discussion of who we were going to actually work with.''
The change in the nomination procedure is just one in a series of events as the Republican-controlled Legislature figures out how to have to deal with a governor of a different party. The last time that happened was in 2008, before Janet Napolitano quit to take a job in the Obama administration.
Republicans are ignoring Hobbs' spending request and instead sending her their own "skinny budget,'' one she already has promised to veto.
They also have threatened to sue over what they say is her illegal decision to use funds left over from the inaugural for political purposes like electing more Democrats to the Legislature in 2024.
And several Republicans either walked out of her State of the State speech or stood up and turned their backs to her.
Hobbs press aide Josselyn Berry said GOP senators are off the mark in claiming the governor is withholding nominees from consideration.
"Our timeline for cabinet nominations is on par with previous administrations, and we will continue to work at an appropriate pace,'' she said. And Berry took a shot at Senate Republicans who have so far failed to even consider, much less vote on, a measure to waive the aggregate education expenditure limit by the March 1 deadline to avoid schools having to make huge cuts before the end of the academic year.
"They should be focusing on that and not playing games with the nomination process,'' she said. "These kind of antics are just meant to be a distraction.''
Senate Minority Leader Raquel Teran, D-Phoenix, said the Senate action - and how it was taken - only threatens future chances of cooperation. She pointed out that Democrats got a copy of the proposed change in rules to create this new committee only 15 minutes before coming to the floor.
Then there's the nature of the change itself.
"We do go through the long-standing process where every director can come to the committee that is the area of expertise so they can go through the process from the members that are more knowledgeable on each of the issues,'' Teran said.
What that has meant is a choice to head the Department of Health Services went to the Senate Health Committee. A nominee for the Department of Agriculture normally would go to a panel that deals with that issue. And the Judiciary Committee or the Public Safety Committee would screen whoever was named to head the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.
Petersen, however, said that isn't efficient, what with each committee having legislation they also need to review. Having a single panel focused only on nominees, he said, allows for deep dives into the individuals and their backgrounds.
"That's what the public wants,'' Petersen said.
Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Laveen, said if Republicans want to advance some of their own agenda items they need to understand that they are no longer in control of state government. She said that requires them to consider the legislative Democrats, even if they are only 14 of the 30 senators.
"There are dynamics that have changed here,'' Miranda said.
"You're powerful with the majority vote,'' she continued. "We're powerful with the governor - which makes us equal.''
And Hobbs, with her veto stamp, has the last word on Republican legislation.