“The debate debacle continues this morning,” the TV anchor said, laughing. “The never-ending story of Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs choosing not to debate her opponent, Kari Lake.”
That’s what Arizona voters heard last week as they woke up and turned on one of Phoenix’s most popular morning news programs. They’ve been hearing it for months.
Hobbs’ refusal to debate Lake, the Republican nominee, has become the defining story of the gubernatorial race, one that started out as a 20-year precedent-breaking decision and has morphed a larger-than-life narrative about the Democrat’s political judgment and skittishness, with multiple left-leaning media outlets, from MSNBC and The View to the Arizona Republic and the New York Times, all asking the same question: What in the world is she thinking?
Hobbs claims it’s because her opponent is too far to the right. In reality, her national headline-making stage fright has been going on for much longer than the general election.
It began in April when Hobbs declined to participate in a June 30th debate with her Democratic primary opponent Marco López, the former mayor of Nogales and chief of staff at U.S. Customs and Border Protection under President Barack Obama. With one exception, Hobbs was the only statewide candidate in Arizona who declined. López used light political pressure hoping to change her mind — he’d often ask the crowd: “¿Dónde está Katie?” — but, when approached by the local press in May, Hobbs’ campaign claimed that she had (conveniently) scheduled “multiple events in Tucson” on June 30th and couldn’t make the two-hour drive back to Phoenix.
López understood. So, he wrote a letter to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, the government body that organized the debate, granting it permission to “reschedule the debate to a time and date that fits into the Secretary’s busy schedule” over the next 40-plus days. Hobbs declined to reschedule.
When June 30th arrived, a local reporter reached out to Hobbs for comment on her absence. She must have been pretty busy that day, what with “multiple events in Tucson.” But why were no photographs posted online? Oh, about those events, her campaign responded … um, they were canceled. The candidate had come down with a (convenient) case of COVID.
Three days later, Hobbs was spotted, mask-less, waving a flag at a crowded parade in Flagstaff. A superb immune system, indeed.
It wasn’t long after the general election began that Hobbs announced she would not be debating Lake, either. Instead, the Democrat demanded separate one-on-one TV interviews — but that’s not how the Clean Elections process works. Candidates who bow out are not rewarded for doing so. Hobbs insisted that Lake would create a spectacle if the debate format were not right, so the Commission held a formal meeting to appease her, during which its chairman asked her campaign manager point-blank: “Is there any scenario where Ms. Hobbs will share the stage with Ms. Lake in a debate?”
She dismissed his “hypothetical” question and refused to offer an alternate format, and the Commission ruled that the October 12th debate would go on with or without the Democrat in attendance. (Lake said that her opponent was free to change her mind at any time.)
The morning of October 12th, Hobbs joined MSNBC for a softball segment … a little too soft. Because Hobbs got a little too comfortable and accidentally blabbed to the host, as if in the middle of a private conversation, that “PBS is also giving me the same format that Kari Lake has.”
Oops. That secret arrangement wasn’t supposed to come out until after Lake’s interview that evening.
You see, Arizona PBS is the Commission’s official broadcast partner, a relationship that provides the station with unique access to high-profile debates in exchange for complying with the Commission’s rulings when candidates disagree. It turned out that Arizona PBS had struck a side-deal with the Hobbs campaign to shoot and air the one-on-one interview she’d been begging for, right as voters received their early ballots.
The Commission had no clue that the station violated its agreement — and wouldn’t have until it was too late, had Hobbs not accidentally revealed it on live TV. The Commission was forced to cancel the long-planned debate with hours to spare in order to find a new broadcast partner it could trust. In response, Lake held a press conference condemning Arizona PBS’ “backroom deal” with Hobbs, which a source informed her was made at the behest of Michael Crow, the politically connected and contentious president of Arizona State University. (ASU owns and operates Arizona PBS.)
Approached for comment the next morning, Crow denied directing the backroom deal with Hobbs but acknowledged that “he let his preference be known” to the station (which I am certain Arizona PBS interpreted in the exact way that Crow meant it). The Commission’s executive director described himself as “bewildered” by Crow’s political meddling — casting him as “the most powerful man in Arizona” other than the governor — and decried the appearance that “ASU was playing favorites with the candidates.”
Much like Crow, Mi-Ai Parrish, a managing director at ASU who helps oversee Arizona PBS, also “wouldn’t say who made the call to invite” the Democrat. Hobbs herself is similarly claiming now that “I wasn’t involved in those conversations” with ASU — which, again, is a strange series of denials coming from several people who insist they did the right thing.
A Republican state legislator has already announced plans to file a bill that will strip the state’s ties to Arizona PBS as a result of it circumventing the Clean Elections ruling. And, unfortunately for ASU, it doesn’t appear that Hobbs will be in a position to veto it.
Outside of vomiting on herself on-stage, I cannot fathom a single humiliation Hobbs could have endured in a 30-minute debate that would have been worse than the six-month headache of negative headlines her refusal has caused. Two separate polls released this month reflect that reality, finding that the Republican nominee enjoys a 3-point lead heading into Election Day, with even CNN’s Dana Bash acknowledging Monday that “the fact that [Hobbs] won’t debate has given Kari Lake a very wide opening.”
At the end of the day, Arizonans vote for who shows up — and, so far, Katie Hobbs hasn’t.
Brian Anderson is founder of the Saguaro Group, an Arizona-based political research firm.
It started in January when several supporters withdrew support of Hobbs’ run to be the Democratic nominee for governor following her comments about a jury’s verdict in a racial and gender discrimination lawsuit by a former staffer.
Then in her role as Arizona Secretary of State, Hobbs was shot down by a superior court judge when she tried to sidestep possible consequences for her planned shut down of the E-Qual system at a time when legislative and congressional candidates were relying on the system to get on the ballot.
Next, Hobbs was called out by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for her failure to draft an Elections Procedures Manual (EPM) which complies with state law. Without an approved EPM, elections officials across the state are unsure what protocols to follow for the 2022 election cycle.
Earlier this month, Hobbs the candidate has come under scrutiny for the recent announcement that women of color have been appointed as her campaign manager, political director, and Finance Director. Only two of the three live in Arizona, leading to questions of why Hobbs turned to out-of-staters for key campaign roles.
The latest embarrassment came last week when the Secretary, a Democrat, was thrashed by the attorney for several Democratic Party organizations after she argued that the Arizona Supreme Court should listen to her—and her alone—in defense against an effort by the Arizona Republican Party to have voting by mail declared unconstitutional.
According to Hobbs, the justices should reject a motion to intervene filed by the Arizona Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It is those same voters and party leaders that Hobbs will need to get out of the gubernatorial primary in August.
The Democratic groups argue they should have standing to “protect their voters, their candidates, and their interests” as respondents in the case. The AZGOP did not object to the motion, but Hobbs has cried foul against her fellow Democrats, alleging that she is capable of adequately representing those interests.
However, Hobbs has argued that the Arizona Supreme Court has no power to even hear the constitutional challenge. The Democratic intervenors, on the other hand, agree with the AZGOP that the Court “can and should exercise its power” to adjudicate the case.
Arizona’s Governor and lawmakers are displaying an enlightened shift in strategy addressing the overdose crisis. After the state experienced an estimated 48 percent jump in overdose deaths during the first eight months of 2020 (a 32 percent increase in most populous Maricopa County in all of 2020), they decided to embrace harm reduction.
On May 14 the Arizona House voted 48–11 to pass SB 1486, which removed fentanyl test strips from the list of legally prohibited drug paraphernalia, after the Arizona Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill. On May 19, Governor Ducey (R) signed it into law.
Fentanyl test strips, made by a Canadian biotechnology company, were designed for urine drug screening. The tests strips are not approved for sale in U.S. drugstores or other outlets by the Food and Drug Administration, but harm reduction organizations—including “needle exchange” programs— have been buying them and handing them out to IV drug users who use them “off‐label” to test heroin, cocaine, and other drugs for the presence of fentanyl. Researchers claim the tests strips are highly accurate and can detect up to 10 analogs of fentanyl. They also find they save lives by causing drug users to use smaller amounts and/or take a drug more slowly when they detect it contains fentanyl.
When signing the bill into law, Governor Ducey said:
We want everyone who is using drugs to seek professional treatment. But until someone is ready to get help, we need to make sure they have the tools necessary to prevent a lethal overdose.
Speaking of “needle exchange” programs, syringe services programs (SSPs), the term public health professionals use for “needle exchange” programs, are endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and the American Medical Association. In January 2020, then‐Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams and Professor Ricky D. Bluthenthal of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine spoke at the Cato Institute on the benefits of syringe services programs. They are proven to reduce the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. They also serve to reduce overdose deaths because one of their services is to distribute the overdose antidote naloxone as well as fentanyl test strips and other drug‐testing materials. Dr. Adams pointed out SSPs offer the added benefits of screening IV drug users for hepatitis and HIV so they can get treatment, and bringing many of them into rehab programs.
Although federal law permits syringe services programs, many states prohibit or make the operation of SSPs very difficult. Researchers at Temple University’s Center for Public Health Law research reported in the July/August 2020 Public Health Reports:
Thirty‐nine states (including the District of Columbia) had laws in effect on August 1, 2019, that removed legal impediments to, explicitly authorized, and/or regulated SSPs. Thirty‐three states had 1 or more laws consistent with legal possession of syringes by SSP participants under at least some circumstances. Changes from 2014 to 2019 included an increase of 14 states explicitly authorizing SSPs by law and an increase of 12 states with at least 1 provision reducing legal barriers to SSPs. Since 2014, the number of states explicitly authorizing SSPs nearly doubled, and the new states included many rural, southern, or midwestern states that had been identified as having poor access to SSPs, as well as states at high risk for HIV and hepatitis C virus outbreaks. Substantial legal barriers to SSP operation and participant syringe possession remained in >20% of US states.
Until now, Arizona was among the states where paraphernalia laws prevented SSPs from operating out in the open. At least four such programs, all privately funded, have been operating in the state but constantly fear police interdiction—as do their clients. If they were explicitly legal, they could establish permanent locations and raise funds.
After an unsuccessful attempt to legalize syringe services in 2018, then‐Representative Tony Rivero (R‐Peoria) tried again in 2020. I testified on the benefits of SSPs before the House Health Committee in February of that year. A bill to legalize syringe services passed the House 50–10 but died in the Senate. This year Senator Nancy Barto (R‐Phoenix) introduced SB 1250, legalizing SSPs. The Arizona Senate passed the bill unanimously in mid‐April, and it passed the House 56–2 with 2 abstentions on May 18.
On May 24, Governor Ducey signed SB 1250 into law.
The bill requires operators of SSPs to “offer disposal of used needles and syringes,” but unlike laws in some states, it does not require one‐for‐one exchanges with people who access the programs. One‐for‐one requirements pose an undue burden on syringe services programs. The priority should be getting clean paraphernalia out to users in order to reduce the spread of disease. The Arizona law gets the priority right.
After multiple unsuccessful attempts, it is gratifying that Arizona lawmaker’s views evolved from initial reluctance to a now near‐unanimous embrace of harm reduction as a rational, evidence‐based, and compassionate approach to the drug overdose crisis. Add the enactment of these two harm reduction measures to the recent enactment of HB 2454, which allows Arizonans to access telehealth services from health care practitioners who hold out‐of‐state licenses, and 2021 is proving to be a year in which the rest of the country can look to Arizona for leadership in health care reform.
On Thursday, the Arizona State Senate approved HB 2770, dubbed the mask “Freedom Bill,” sponsored by Rep. Joseph Chaplik. The bill asserts a business is not required to enforce a state, city, town, county or other jurisdiction’s mask mandate on the businesses’ premises.
“The need for this bill now is more evident than ever,” said Chaplik. “Recent developments show that without a protection in law, businesses and their customers are subject to the decisions of local rogue politicians who want to control you indefinitely. This bill did not receive any Democrat votes throughout the entire process. I would hope the Governor signs this bill as it does exactly what his temporary executive orders do, but now permanently.”
The bill will now be transmitted to Governor Ducey.
On June 17, 2020, the governor issued Executive Order 2020-40 authorizing a county, city or town, based on conditions in the jurisdiction, to adopt policies regarding the wearing of face coverings in public for the purpose of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
We appreciate what the governor did today in making mask enforcement optional for businesses.
That is exactly what my bill, #HB2770 was written to do, but long term.
The local mandates were a divisive policy without any data to back them up.