Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs won't debate her Republican opponent
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Arizona voters won't see a debate between the major gubernatorial hopefuls.
Democrat Katie Hobbs said Sunday she won't share a stage with Republican Kari Lake. That came even after the Citizens Clean Election Commission offered last week to let Hobbs propose conditions on a head-to-head event.
But the decision is hardly a surprise.
Nicole DeMont, Hobbs' campaign manager, balked last week when commission chairman Damien Meyer asked her flat out whether there are any conditions under which the candidate would agree to participate in the same kind of debate the commission has sponsored for decades.
DeMont said she would not respond to "hypothetical'' questions.
And Hobbs refused to debate Marco Lopez ahead of the Democratic primary.
In explaining the decision, DeMont repeated the same allegations she made to commissioners last week, charging that Lake would turn the event into "constant interruptions, pointless distractions, and childish name-calling.''
She also has complained that Lake, who insists that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, would spend the time rehashing old conspiracy theories rather than focus on policies for governing the state.
DeMont repeated her offer to participate in a "town hall'' style event, where she and Lake would answer questions, but separately. Commissioners rejected that proposal Thursday, saying the public is entitled to see the candidates side by side.
Hobbs' decision means that Lake will get 30 minutes of her own on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate, on Oct. 12, questioned by Ted Simons who has hosted other debates. That is precisely what happened when Hobbs snubbed a debate with Lopez.
No other major candidate for any Arizona statewide office has refused to debate.
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Arizona Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs wanted to scrap a debate. Elections officials said no.
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Members of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission rejected a demand by Arizona gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs to scrap the traditional gubernatorial debate.
The panel voted 3-1 Thursday to spurn a request by the Democratic nominee to replace the 60-minute moderated head-to-head debate instead with a "town hall.'' That would give each candidate 30 minutes alone, subject only to questions by Ted Simons, host of the Horizon show on the Phoenix PBS affiliate.
"I don't support the town hall style,'' said commission Chairman Damien Meyer.
"Our mission is to have debates, not town halls,'' added Galen Paton. He said candidates are free to make such arrangements elsewhere.
But they agreed Thursday to give Hobbs one week to agree to some conditions under which she would be willing to share the stage Oct. 12 with Republican Kari Lake in a debate. Plans are to have the event aired live not only on PBS but other stations throughout the state
The odds of that happening, though, appear slim, as Nicole DeMont, Hobbs' campaign manager, told commissioners her candidate has no interest in participating in the what has been the traditional back and forth moderated by Simons. DeMont said Lake's actions during the GOP primary debate show she would make the general election debate into a "spectacle.''
"You can't debate a conspiracy theorist,'' she said.
And she sidestepped a question from commission Meyer whether there were any conditions under which Hobbs would appear for a debate.
"I'm not going to answer a hypothetical question,'' DeMont responded.
But if Hobbs ultimately won't participate, that doesn't kill the entire plan. Commissioners said they instead would give Lake, who already has agreed to a full debate format, 30 minutes on her own to answer questions from Simons -- with no input from or opportunity for Hobbs to respond.
The commission has conducted debates every election since being created by voters in 1998.
Strictly speaking, only candidates that get public funds for their campaigns, administered by the commission, are legally required to participate. And both Hobbs and Lake are using private donations.
The record, however, shows every gubernatorial candidate has agreed not only to participate but also to the format which consists of not just questions directed at them by the moderator but also the opportunity for them to enact with and question each other.
It is that format that Hobbs finds unacceptable.
"She is willing and enthusiastic to participate in a substantive conversation that would allow Arizonans the chance to compare the ideas, policies and solutions of their candidates,'' DeMont told commissioners.
"However, we don't believe that is what Kari Lake's intention is here,'' she continued. "It's pretty clear that she only wants to create another spectacle.''
And that includes Lake resurrecting her theories in how the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.
"So, when she decides to come back to reality, accept the results of our free and fair elections, then we can start to have a real policy debate,'' DeMont said.
Attorney Timothy LaSota, who represents Lake, told commissioners they should not change the rules to protect Hobbs against uncomfortable questions.
"This is an unprecedented request by a gubernatorial candidate to alter the rules of the debate,'' he said. And LaSota said there's no reason to believe that Simons cannot keep the discussion fair, calling Hobbs' excuses for not wanting to debate "a cop out.''
"The fact that Katie Hobbs tries to blame someone else because she's simply unwilling to show up on the same stage and debate her record, debate the issues, that is nobody's fault but Katie Hobbs,'' he said.
But LaSota, in saying Lake wants a debate on issues, also provided a hint of what his candidate is likely to say in a head-to-head with Hobbs.
He told commissioners this blame shifting is "reminiscent of when she was found to have racially and sexually discriminated against Talonya Adams.''
That is based on two separate civil trials in federal court where jurors concluded Adams, a Senate Democratic staffer, was the victim of retaliation for asking to be paid the same as white staffers. Hobbs was the Senate minority leader at the time.
A free-form debate would open the door for Lake to pose directly to Hobbs on live TV the accusation she has been making on the campaign trail: that Hobbs is a racist.
Commissioners, while ruling a town hall is off the table and insisting on the debate format, did acknowledge at least some of the concerns Hobbs has about a freewheeling event. They said they would consider some possible guardrails -- if she agrees to participate.
"I think that there is merit to trying to maybe give a little more structure and some minor modifications to this debate process, just so we have -- both candidates have -- a complete understanding of what the rules will be, what the consequences will be if those rules are broken,'' Meyer said. And that, he said, even could include turning off someone's microphone.
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