By Terri Jo Neff |
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is coming under attack from within her own party over her involvement in events which led a federal jury to award $2.75 million in damages this week to a former policy advisor Hobbs helped fire in 2015.
That staff member, Talonya Adams, had brought it to the attention of Democratic Senate leaders that as a Black female she was being paid significantly less than policy advisors who were White males. Adams had also documented those other staffers received pay raises while she had not, despite no negative performance reviews.
That put Adams’ claims of pay disparity on the shoulders of Hobbs, who was Senate Minority Leader in 2015, making her the top ranking Democrat in the state Senate at the time. And when Adams was terminated a short while later, there was undisputed evidence that Hobbs was intimately involved in the process.
There have been two trials in U.S. District Court stemming from Adams’ federal racial discrimination and retaliatory termination firing lawsuit. In both, juries found in favor of Adams, and this week that second jury’s award of $2.75 million far exceeded the first jury’s award of $1 million.
There was little public attention to Hobbs’ role in the Adams case during the first trial in 2019 despite Hobbs serving as Secretary of State, which puts her in line to be Governor if anything happens to Doug Ducey.
But with Hobbs seeking the Democratic nomination for Arizona Governor, her actions just a few years ago as Senate Minority Leader are coming under intense scrutiny. Even within her own party.
Especially after Hobbs allowed her gubernatorial campaign spokeswoman to issue a press release after the jury’s unanimous verdict. Not only is the statement in the words of the spokeswoman Jennah Rivera instead of Hobbs, but the statement fail to express any concern for Adams.
That statement turned Adams’ struggles into a campaign ad for Hobbs, with criticism of how diversity and wage inequity is currently handled by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Nowhere does Rivera own up to the fact Hobbs was in meetings with other Democrats in 2015 figuring out how to fire Adams just weeks after the employee complained about her pay.
And then there is the claim in Rivera’s statement about how Hobbs “voluntarily” testified. Hours later, Adams tweeted a copy of the federal subpoena which had been served on Hobbs requiring her presence in court for the trial.
In June, Hobbs explained her decision to run for governor by stating she wanted to “deliver transparency, accountability, and results for Arizonans — just like I’ve done my whole career.”
That has left one prominent Democrat calling for a sincere review of Hobbs’ actions both in 2015 and today in dealing with the Adams’ case.
“We need to have an open and honest discussion about what happened, who is accountable, and if we, as Democrats, are prepared to support a nominee for governor who behaved in this manner just a few short years ago,” said former Rep. Aaron Lieberman,
Lieberman, who is considered Hobbs’ top challenger for the Democratic nomination for governor, also says that the Democratic platform on equality and fair treatment for all needs to be more than a campaign motto.
“Being an effective Democratic leader is about more than just participating in partisan fights; it is about holding a key set of values and living those values all the time—especially when no one is watching,” said Lieberman.