On Wednesday, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs chose to stall on the invalidation of a ballot initiative attempting to kill school choice, despite it not having the required number of signatures.
School choice advocates gathered outside of the State Capitol on Wednesday to protest Hobbs’ inaction. Hobbs told frustrated parents that her office would wait out the entire 20-day period offered by state law to verify the Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) ballot initiative signatures.
Governor Doug Ducey spoke at the rally, telling Hobbs to expedite her signature verification. He also directed Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Kathy Hoffman to take charge and free the universal school choice funds.
“Arizona is going to be a state that funds students, not systems,” said Ducey.
One Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program mother, Christine Accurso, pleaded with the media to question Hobbs’ choice. Accurso led “Decline to Sign,” the countermovement to SOSAZ’s ballot initiative.
“Help us parents of Arizona. Ask Katie Hobbs why they won’t release this,” said Accurso.
Accurso added that if a group of four moms was able to verify the signature number total in a matter of days, it shouldn’t take the secretary of state’s office nearly a month to do the same.
According to earlier reporting from this week, pro-ESA Program parents, organizations such as the American Federation for Children, and various reporters reviewed the SOSAZ signature sheets and found them far short of the claimed totals. However, Hobbs and her office took SOSAZ’s signature total claim at their word.
“Conservative Circus” radio host James Harris also spoke at the rally. He declared that Hobbs’ Republican gubernatorial opponent, Kari Lake, wouldn’t stand in the way of school choice funds for parents the way he said that Hobbs did this week.
“We don’t need more obstacles. We need liberty and we need freedom,” said Harris.
AZ Free News reached out to Hobbs’ office on Tuesday for clarification about whether their decision to accept SOSAZ’s word for their petition signature count without verification was protocol. They haven’t responded.
We also reached out to SOSAZ Director Beth Lewis; she didn’t respond to our questions, either.
Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) sent a letter to Hobbs on Wednesday, informing the secretary of state that anything less than an immediate rejection of the SOSAZ ballot initiative would make Hobbs complicit in misreporting and interfering with the law.
“As our country enters into a recession, we know that every dollar is valuable to lives and livelihoods,” said Fann.
While awaiting response from Hobbs’ office, AZ Free News posed the same question to former Secretary of State Ken Bennett. Though he said he was shocked by Hobbs’ handling of the ballot initiative, he said that Hobbs’ actions weren’t in violation of any laws. Bennett explained that Hobbs’ handling of this recent initiative didn’t align with the precedent of her predecessors, including his administration.
“We just felt the integrity of the whole process was worth at least a verification of the number of sheets and the purported number of signatures on those sheets when they first turned them in when I was there,” said Bennett. “Each secretary can decide how they want to do it, but my administration felt that we at least owed the public the fact that we checked the signatures per sheet. At least we would add the total sheets and total signatures up, so we weren’t getting somebody a false receipt of what we had received from them.”
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.
Laws are meaningless if they aren’t enforced, are misapplied or misconstrued. The duly elected Arizona legislature crafts and passes election bills, and the Governor signs them into law. The Secretary of State, however, is tasked with prescribing “rules to achieve and maintain the maximum degree of correctness, impartiality, uniformity and efficiency” in implementing those laws.
This is done through the Elections Procedures Manual (EPM). But instead of crafting this with “impartiality” to attain the “maximum degree of correctness” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs seems intent on subverting state law in some instances, obfuscating in others, and as highlighted in a previous article, doing an end-run around a United States Supreme Court decision that upheld an Arizona election integrity practice.
The good news is that Hobbs doesn’t have unilateral authority to do this. She was required to submit this draft manual to Attorney General Brnovich and Governor Ducey by October 1st. Both have to sign off on the draft manual for it to go into effect. If they decline, we stick with the 2019 manual and Hobbs’s changes die…