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Fate of Arizona Governor Debate Delayed Another Week

September 9, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

On Thursday, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission (AZCCEC) voted to give gubernatorial opponents Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake another week to agree to a debate format. Even if the debate doesn’t take place, a Q&A session will occur on the scheduled day of the debate, October 12.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Hobbs rejected the traditional debate setup at the end of last month, and last Friday issued a proposal to replace the debate with two separate, consecutive town halls. 

AZCECC read aloud a letter from Republican gubernatorial candidate Lake refusing to accept Hobbs’ terms. Lake also requested that one of the commissioners, Amy Chan, recuse herself because she works as general counsel to Hobbs’ office. Chan did recuse herself from the discussion and vote.

AZCCEC rejected Hobbs’ proposal, 3-1. Only Commissioner Steve Titla voted in favor of Hobbs’ proposal. 

Chairman Damien Meyer said he weighed the purpose of AZCCEC, and what is best for Arizona voters. Meyer said voter education was the most important function of AZCCEC. Meyer said it was most beneficial for voters to have a debate.

“I don’t believe the commission should accept Secretary Hobbs’ proposal of these back-to-back 30 minute town hall interviews,” said Meyer.

However, Meyer stressed that both campaigns needed to work with AZCCEC to agree on a fair debate structure. Meyer clarified that any future debate format modifications shouldn’t include content regulation. He implied that fact-checking wasn’t the role of debate moderators. 

“If someone wants to make a claim, then they’re going to have to live with that claim,” said Meyer.

Commissioner Mark Kimble said he agreed with Meyer, but “only up to a point.” Kimble said there was an issue with timing, since AZCCEC usually sends a format in August. He took issue with Hobbs’ action to send a proposal last week. Kimble argued that it was unrealistic to believe that Hobbs and Lake could come to a mutual agreement.

“It’s incumbent on us to say enough. This is the format we set up,” said Kimble.

Commissioner Galen Paton concurred. He said voters needed to see a debate between the two candidates. 

“If they want to do town halls they can do that somewhere else with someone else sponsoring it,” said Galen. 

Titla disagreed. He said there was time for the two campaigns to work with AZCCEC to create a fair solution. Titla said he liked Hobbs’ proposal, implying that Lake didn’t meet the criteria of conducting a “fair and reasoned” debate. Titla said the “Apache way” was to give people time to speak, not to insult and speak over one another.

“There should be reasonable people talking, not speaking over each other, not insulting one another in front of people,” said Titla. 

Present at the meeting were representatives of both campaigns: Nicole DeMont for Hobbs and Timothy La Sota for Lake.

DeMont said Hobbs was willing to participate in a “substantive” debate, which she said Lake wasn’t going to do. She accused Lake of wanting to create a spectacle. 

“You can’t debate a conspiracy theorist,” said DeMont. “When she starts to come back to reality [then] we can have a debate.”

La Sota retorted that Hobbs’ avoidance of the debate is a “cop-out.” He said Hobbs’ proposal is merely an infomercial, not substantive. La Sota warned that AZCCEC capitulating on this debate would cause future candidates to avoid debates. La Sota added that a town hall wasn’t a debate, and therefore would undermine AZCCEC’s purpose.

Public comment heavily favored hosting a traditional debate: 13 voters desired a debate, while 3 voters said they would rather have Hobbs’ proposed town hall format or no debate at all. 

Watch the entire AZCCEC meeting below:

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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