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Arizona Gov.-Elect Hobbs will hold inaugural celebration but it won't be open to the public or the media

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Katie Hobbs

By Bob Christie
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Incoming Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs is kicking off her term with a celebratory ball, a first for a new governor since Fife Symington had one in the 1990s.

But Hobbs, who touted transparency as part of her leadership, has refused to disclose which people or corporations are paying for the party.

And the lack of full public disclosure continues with her taking the oath of office on Monday. That event, four days before the ceremonial oath, will be closed to the public and media, with the exception of a pool news photographer.

And the costs of that Thursday ceremony are being picked up by special interests, including lobbyists, companies that do business with the state, developers and builders. But the new administration, while listing official “sponsors” for the event, has been unwilling to share how much each is paying for that privilege.

The incoming governor's unwillingness to share details of the events publicly, how much they will cost, just who is paying and how much stand in contrast to her promise to make her administration “the most ethical and accountable” in history.

On her “katiehobbs.org” website, she vows to make state government more transparent, “because the people deserve to know what their leaders are doing with their money.”

That reticence to share information about the source and use of the funds, at least for now, is a change from the three previous administrations, which were open with the costs of the inauguration and related events -- and the fundraising efforts needed to throw big bashes without spending too much of the taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.

When Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano took the oath of office in 2001, she collected $150,000 from donors and those attending four inaugural receptions, followed by public disclosures.

But that wasn't enough to cover all the costs. So the state treasury also coughed up $50,000, mainly for renting and staffing the audio-visual equipment for the large-screen TVs that ensured even those in the back of the Capitol courtyard could see what was happening.

Republican Gov. Jan. Brewer’s 2011 inauguration was cheap by comparison as the state struggled with fallout from the Great Recession and cratered state revenue. The event cost $65,000, and expenses included renting the chairs and other necessities to house a large Capitol crowd and also covered $13,000 worth of keepsake coins stamped with her likeness for guests.

Brewer raised $200,000 for the event and no tax dollars were used.

And the leftover cash was used to renovate the governor’s offices on the 9th floor of the executive tower.

Outgoing GOP Gov. Doug Ducey was inaugurated in 2014 and 2018, and both times he tapped special interests like lobbying firms and big businesses to pay for some of the costs.

The 2018 event bought in cash by selling off special seats.
Acquiring a pair of VIP seats costs a minimum of $10,000, which also got entrance to a special reception. Bigger checks added a photo with Ducey, and a $25,000 payout netted six seats in the front rows, three parking passes, the reception and photos, inaugural pins for all six and corporate logos on programs and the inauguration website.

This year, however, Hobbs press aide Joe Wolf said no one will have to buy tickets to watch the Thursday ceremonies.

But that doesn't mean the incoming governor isn't tapping donors, special interests and firms that do business with the state.

A list of event sponsors on the official state inauguration web page leads with Arizona Public Service Co., suggesting the state's biggest utility is the single largest donor.

The company may have some fence-mending to do with the new governor.

In 2021 it gave $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association. It hasn't yet disclosed how much it spent in 2022.

And the RGA, in turn, financed millions of dollars in TV commercials attacking Hobbs, much of that accusing her of being lax on border enforcement.

Neither aides to Hobbs nor APS will disclose how much they are now donating to the ceremony, with the company instead saying only that it is joining with other Arizona businesses in supporting the new governor's inauguration.

“This support is directed specifically to the 2023 gubernatorial inauguration committee, meaning it can be used in support of all inauguration functions,” the statement said. “This an important event for Arizona and its citizens; and we are pleased to be a participant.”

Others listed on the inaugural committee's website as opening their checkbooks for the event -- but with no amounts -- include the insurers who provide state Medicaid services, a public affairs and consulting firm for the mining industry, developers, builders, lobbying firms and Hensley Beverage. Hensley is controlled by Cindy McCain, the widow of Republican Sen. John McCain, who was the target of vitriol by Republican Kari Lake during her losing campaign against Hobbs.

“This is a private event not being paid for with public funds,”' said Hobbs press aide Murphy Hebert when asked for specifics.

Other officials who take office Monday include Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who is replacing Hobbs as secretary of state, and Kris Mayes, who defeated Republican Abraham Hamadeh for attorney general in what is believed to be the tightest win for a statewide office in Arizona history. Recount results opened in court on Thursday confirmed Mayes won by just 280 votes. She had been ahead by 511 votes out of about 2.5 million cast before a few hundred uncounted ballots were located during the recount.

Two Republicans also won statewide office and begin their terms Monday: Treasurer Kimberly Yee won a second term and Tom Horne defeated incumbent Kathy Hoffman and will become the state’s top K-12 school official as superintendent of public instruction.

While the number of guests expected for Thursday’s official inauguration hasn’t been released, is will be large. The state Department of Administration sent a memo to state workers warning of road closures, heavy traffic and tight parking availability, since many state lots will be cordoned off for those attending Hobbs’ inauguration.

To make room, state employees assigned to buildings in the Capitol complex are being “strongly encouraged” to avoid the office on Thursday and to instead work remotely.

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Want to dance in the same room with incoming Gov. Katie Hobbs at the Inaugural Ball?

That will be $150 -- unless you have the promo code. And tickets are (reportedly) going fast.

Next Saturday’s shindig to celebrate the Democrat's seating as Arizona’s 24th governor at the Talking Stick Resort is the capstone of a weeklong series of events.

The official Katie Hobbs inauguration is on Thursday at the Capitol, where she will be ceremonially sworn in as governor along with four other top state officials in front of a huge crowd of guests, dignitaries and members of the public lucky enough to score a free ticket. Details on how to get those? Still unannounced as of Friday.

But four days before, in front of an undisclosed number of invited supporters at the Capitol, Hobbs is taking the real oath of office in an event closed to the public and media, with the exception of a pool press photographer.

Under the Arizona Constitution, elected members of the executive department begin their four-year terms in office on the first Monday in January following the election.