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Arizona Gov. Hobbs completes first 100 days Wednesday

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, center, makes public remarks at the State Capitol in Phoenix on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Behind Hobbs are Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and State Treasurer Kimberly Yee.
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, center, makes public remarks at the State Capitol in Phoenix on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023. Behind Hobbs are Secretary of State Adrian Fontes and State Treasurer Kimberly Yee.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs completes her first 100 days Wednesday with various controversies, criticism and the liberal use of her veto stamp.

But we've seen this movie before, two decades earlier, when Democrat Janet Napolitano -- the only other Democrat elected Arizona governor in this century -- took office after winning the race over Republican foe Matt Salmon, and by an even narrower margin than Hobbs over Republican Kari Lake.

In fact, Prescott Republican Ken Bennett who was Senate president in 2003 and is back at the Capitol again now, called the current political situation ``eerily similar.''

And even Napolitano told Capitol Media Services she sees the parallels -- though she thinks Hobbs has it much harder than she did.

Moving up from another statewide office?

Check. Hobbs was secretary of state. Napolitano had been attorney general.

Inheriting a Republican-controlled Legislature?

Ditto. The GOP, then and now, has a majority.

Getting criticized for issuing executive orders rather than working with lawmakers?

Yup. Hobbs has signed 10 so far, along with halting executions while a task force studies the issue. Napolitano was blasted for some orders, including one creating a program for affordable prescriptions.

Early controversies?

For Napolitano it was the heavy-handed way of trying to get Squaw Peak renamed with an aide pressuring the commission that makes such decisions. And it took Hobbs weeks to disclose the source -- and planned political use -- of $2.5 million cash supposedly raised to cover inaugural expenses, all of which one aide frankly called a ``self-inflicted wound.''

And then there's the frequent use of the veto stamp.

Hobbs already has surpassed Napolitano's number of vetoes for her first year in office. As of Tuesday she hit 43; Napolitano had just 17 for the whole session.

But the new governor is rapidly closing in on Napolitano's all-time record of 58, set in 2005.

Hobbs acknowledged that, for the moment, she has had to play defense, swatting down GOP measures, versus advancing her own legislative agenda.

``That shouldn't surprise anyone,'' Hobbs told Capitol Media Services. ``I talked about this during the election that this is sanity versus chaos.''

The governor said she is willing to work with anyone to deal with tough challenges.

``I'm not here to veto more bills than anyone else,'' Hobbs said.
``But I'm not going to entertain legislation that doesn't tackle those challenges, that moves backwards on people's rights versus forward,'' she continued. ``I don't think there should be too many surprises in the things I have sent back.''

In fact, Hobbs said, she assumes that some Republicans, rather than waste political capital trying to kill a poorly crafted measure, simply agree to send it to her ``because they know it's going to get vetoed.''

Napolitano said she saw her share of those.

``Oftentimes, they'd send me bills they knew full well I was going to veto them,'' she said. ``We called them 'veto bait.' ''

But there was an upside of all of that, the former governor said.

``The bills actually gave me an opportunity to explain myself even better to the voting public,'' Napolitano said. And she said she believes those veto messages were part of the reason that her 2006 reelection bid ``was not a close race,'' as she trounced Republican nominee Len Munsil by a margin of close to 2-1.

Both used their veto powers on social issues.

Hobbs, for example, rejected a measure to dictate to doctors what care they have to provide to newborns even if there is no chance of survival. And a bill increasing the penalty for domestic violence offenders if the victim was pregnant also fell amid concerns this was a way of providing legal status to a fetus.

Napolitano, for her part, killed legislation that would have expanded the exemptions given to the Catholic Church from laws requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage to workers.

Hobbs, like Napolitano, also defended her use of executive orders.

One that particularly aroused the ire of Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, expanded anti-discrimination protections for state employees and contractors.

``The people of Arizona did not elect Katie Hobbs to rule by executive fiat,'' he said. Hoffman, head of the Arizona Freedom Caucus, said the role of the governor is solely to implement the laws approved by the House and Senate, not to unilaterally enact her ``radical woke agenda.''

He even threatened to sue, though that never happened.

Hobbs, for her part, said executive orders sometimes become necessary when lawmakers refuse to act. And she said there's a PR benefit, showing ``I'm someone willing to take action.''

But while Hobbs wields her veto stamp and gets to issue executive orders, there's only so much she can do, absent legislative cooperation, to actually advance her agenda.

For example, Hobbs wants to eliminate state sales taxes on diapers and feminine hygiene products. And she proposed a child tax credit for families earning less than $40,000 a year.

Instead, GOP lawmakers sent her bills to eliminate the ability of local governments to tax residential rentals and groceries, both of which she vetoed.

But her ability to get at least some of what she wants could hang on the crucial differences between 2003 and 2023. And much of it comes down to the fact that this Republican-controlled Legislature is markedly different than the one Napolitano inherited.

Barrett Marson, then a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star and now a political consultant, said the 2003 legislative session had something in short supply this year: moderate Republicans.
Senate GOP leaders seeking to advance their own agenda, had to gain the cooperation of people like Carolyn Allen and Slade Mead to have a working majority. And the House Republican caucus featured people like Deb Gullett, Phil Hanson and Bill Konopnicki, all of whom whose politics were sometimes more closely aligned with Napolitano than their Republican colleagues.

``There were certainly a number who were far Right,'' Napolitano explained of the 2003 Legislature. ``But there were also several in both houses who you would work with and talk with and get you to the votes that you needed.''

And what of moderate Republicans today?

``I think that it's an oxymoron,'' Hobbs said. So instead the governor said she seeks out GOP lawmakers on an individual basis with whom she can find common ground.

``Rep. (David) Cook is very focused on transportation issues and Prop 400,'' she said, the latter being a plan to extend Maricopa County half-cent sales tax for road and mass transit issues for another 20 years. And Cook, a Globe Republican occasionally refuses to provide the necessary 31st House vote for something the rest in his party want.

Hobbs also said Bennett, a former secretary of state like her, is focused on election issues.

``I'm not saying we agree on things,'' she said. But she said Bennett understands the issues, which is why she tapped him to be on her bipartisan election task force.

There's something else that's different than 20 years ago: the ability of the governor to appoint a team of her choosing.

``I think Gov. Hobbs seems to have run into a little different issue with appointments and nominations than we afforded Napolitano for some reason,'' said Bennett, with approval pretty much pro forma. ``I don't remember that being much of an issue at all back then.''

It changed this year when current Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who declined to be interviewed for this story, created a special panel that would do nothing more than review nominations. And he tapped Hoffman to chair it.

Hoffman, in turn, said the deeper dive -- one that already rejected Hobbs' pick for state health chief -- is justified because he believes department heads can actually make policy. And he said the new governor is not doing a very good job of vetting her picks.

Hobbs, in turn, has clapped back, saying the Hoffman-led panel is not interested in seriously considering her picks.

``They're interested in carrying out their personal vendetta against me and using my nominees as proxy to do that,'' she said.

And the relationship between the new governor and at least some Republican legislators has been at times outright hostile, even to the point of Sens. Justine Wadsack of Tucson and Anthony Kern of Glendale standing up and turning their backs to Hobbs during her State of the State speech while others walked out, both unprecedented acts in recent history.

``The political dialog overall is a little more polarized than maybe what we had with Napolitano,'' Bennett said.

Napolitano had something else that Hobbs does not: a budget deficit.

She took office with the state having to cut more than $100 million for the current fiscal year and some estimates predicting the shortfall for the following year could approach $1 billion. And that's in the days when the entire state budget was $6 billion versus more than $17 billion now.

That, recalled Bennett, ``forced us how to work together sooner rather than later.''

``He's right,'' Napolitano said.

``We had to get at it right after the inaugural,'' she said. ``We got that resolved and then settled into kind of a regular battle rhythm of how we get at things during the session.''

By contrast, Hobbs comes into office with a potential $1.7 billion surplus And both she and the GOP majority have ideas, often conflicting, about how to deal with that.

Aside from that low-income income child tax credit and sales tax exemption for diapers and feminine hygiene products, the new governor wants to expand basic state aid to education. But she is funding at least part of that with a proposal to repeal last year's newly enacted universal school voucher program, a proposal that immediately was declared dead-on-arrival.

``That's pretty hysterical,'' said Senate President pro tem T.J. Shope of Coolidge.

As it turns out, that voucher expansion actually will cost more than anticipated, eating into the surplus. And GOP lawmakers are advancing measures to cut taxes, either permanently or through a one-time rebate.

Hobbs also recently shook up her administration, firing her communications chief and replacing her with someone with national experience. She also created a new position of deputy chief of staff and several others had their titles changed.

The governor said she thinks that some people looking at the reasons for the changes are outsiders doing ``Monday morning quarterbacking,'' such as the the handling of the inaugural fund.

``But I think it's also important for anyone in a leadership position to look at where they need to course correct and taking that kind of action quickly,'' Hobbs said. ``I think we've done that so that we're moving past anything that might take us in the wrong direction.''

Chuck Coughlin, a Republican political consultant in 2003 and now, said the move is ``not surprising.''

``It takes time to develop the chemistry within an organization to be able to respond and to reflect the governor's views through a very diffused governor's office,'' said Coughlin who had previously worked for Republican Gov. Fife Symington.

``My impression is nobody knows how to speak for her,'' he explained.

``Everybody sort of genuflecting towards everybody else and trying to be very respectful -- and not knowing because they don't want to get out of line,'' Coughlin said. ``And it takes time for any organization, absent some domineering Type A personality that ends up leaving after a year, it takes time for that to gel.''


On Twitter: @azcapmedia