Katie Hobbs’ reign as governor of Arizona is off to a rough start. She was booed at the Phoenix Open this past weekend. She looked foolish in an interview before the Super Bowl with Fox News Sunday host Shannon Bream—who called out Hobbs for opposing school choice even though she attended a private school. And her pick to lead the Arizona Democratic Party, Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, was rejected.
That’s not a good look for a governor who’s been in office just over a month. And it’s probably why, at this point, Hobbs has chosen to rule by executive action. But her latest failure may be her worst to date.
Earlier this week, Hobbs’ pick to lead the Department of Health Services (DHS), Dr. Theresa Cullen, failed miserably when the Senate rejected her nomination…
Governor Katie Hobbs’ nominee to head up Arizona’s health services department failed to earn the support of a majority of Senate members on Tuesday.
Last week, the Arizona Senate’s bipartisan Committee on Director Nominations held its first hearing to vet the nominations of two of Governor Katie Hobbs’ appointments to lead state agencies. One, Angie Rodgers, who was nominated to lead the Department of Economic Security, received unanimous support from all five committee members (three Republicans and two Democrats). The other, Dr. Theresa Cullen, who was nominated to run the Department of Health Services (DHS), received an unfavorable recommendation after lawmakers had ample time to review her record and statements.
This week, the full Arizona Senate took up the nominations and rejected the governor’s choice to lead DHS. This was not any ordinary vote, however. Senate Democrats – and Governor Hobbs – claimed that the nomination was withdrawn, and the vote was moot. President Warren Petersen informed Senators that he had not received the withdrawal notice, and so the vote proceeded as scheduled. AZ Free News was told that the Governor attempted to withdraw her nomination of Dr. Cullen, but nothing was received by the Senate’s Secretary.
The Senate’s course was expected after the committee hearing, in which Petersen served up a warning following perceived inconsistencies in Dr. Cullen’s answers, tweeting, “Any nominee who gets caught lying at a confirmation hearing is not fit to serve the state of Arizona.”
In an exclusive interview with AZ Free News, Senator Jake Hoffman, the chairman of the Director Nominations Committee, had the following to say after the floor action and the governor’s attempt to frame Dr. Cullen’s defeat as a Republican-forced withdrawal:
“Personnel is policy, and Katie Hobbs demonstrated with the nomination of Theresa Cullen that her policy agenda is an extreme, authoritarian one that will have no problems infringing the civil liberties of the people of Arizona. Cullen’s record is one of lockdowns, curfews, school closures, forced vaccinations, shaming Pima County citizens, and lying during her confirmation hearing. The people of Arizona deserve better.”
After the Senate’s vote, the Senate Republican Caucus released statements from its leadership team, reacting to the latest development with Governor Hobbs’ problematic nomination. Senate President Petersen said, “We now hope that the Governor takes a more pragmatic approach to this process and appoints individuals in the mainstream, without a political agenda, and who are ready to answer questions from the public.”
Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope stated, “We heard some pretty damning testimony in last week’s committee hearing that was only made worse with lies from Dr. Cullen. Presenting us with this kind of nominee only highlights a failure from the Hobbs administration.”
Senate Majority Whip Sine Kerr responded, “If only Governor Hobbs would have taken the time to conduct the same thorough vetting process as my colleagues and I did at the Senate, we would not be here today, voting on – and ultimately rejecting – a nominee who clearly is not an appropriate fit for this position.”
Governor Hobbs, on the other hand, was furious about the Senate’s action in rejecting her nominee for DHS, writing, “As long as Republicans choose politics over the people of Arizona, some of the most talented and qualified candidates will choose not to enter state service, and it is the people of Arizona who will suffer most because of these political games.” She characterized the behavior of “some Republicans on the State Senate’s committee on director nominations” as “nothing short of harassment,” and she bemoaned the rejection of a nominee with a “mountain of expertise and an immense track record of public health success.”
The Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus claimed in a tweet that Hobbs’ letter was “hand delivered and sent via email to ensure (the Republicans’) symbolic nonsense vote wasn’t necessary.
According to Arizona Senate sources, Governor Hobbs has now transmitted nine total nominations to the legislature, including the failed nomination of Dr. Cullen. The governor is expected to name a replacement nominee for Dr. Cullen, though she blasted Senate Republicans for her current dilemma: “If the Senate’s Director Nominations Committee is unwilling to acknowledge the skill and expertise of Dr. Cullen, there may be no public health professional in the State they would endorse.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
Governor Katie Hobbs has been reticent to transmit her nominations for state agency heads to the state legislature, and the effort by the Arizona Senate to bring transparency to the process may not lend itself to greater cooperation by the Ninth Floor going forward.
On Thursday, the Arizona Senate Committee on Director Nominations met for its first meeting to consider two of the nominees that Governor Hobbs sent to the legislature. A.R.S. 38-211 prescribes that “the governor shall nominate and with the consent of the senate appoint such officer,” and that “the governor shall during each (legislative) session nominate a person who meets the requirements of law for such office and promptly transmit the nomination to the president of the senate.” The Senate’s constitutional responsibility to provide “consent” for Governor Hobbs’ nominees led to President Warren Petersen forming this committee to “recommend a course of action for the Senate to take on each individual.”
But Governor Hobbs has only fulfilled her constitutional responsibility to “promptly transmit” a select number of nominees – and two of them were before the Senate Committee Thursday. The first individual up for consideration was Angie Rodgers, the nominee to lead the Department of Economic Security. Rodgers has been the President and CEO for the Arizona Food Bank Network and previously served in the Napolitano administration as the governor’s Human Services Policy Advisor. Though Republicans on the committee did have concerns about how she would lead this agency, the vote to favorably recommend her to the full Senate was unanimous.
It was the second nominee considered by the committee who brought the most contention, however. Dr. Theresa Cullen, who Hobbs nominated to run the Department of Health Services, is currently the Director of the Pima County Public Health Department – a position she has held since June 1, 2020. Both Dr. Cullen and Rodgers were announced in the first round of future nominees on December 27, 2022, by then-Governor-elect Hobbs.
Arizona Republicans pointed out multiple inconsistencies in her answers throughout the afternoon. On two occasions, Senate President Petersen sharply chided her responses and served a warning about her future as a public servant, writing, “Any nominee who gets caught lying at a confirmation hearing is not fit to serve the state of Arizona. The 9th floor could learn from Napolitano. Napolitano did not appoint radical lefties as directors.”
After enough time was spent on vetting Dr. Cullen’s past (especially her leadership over the Pima County health response to the COVID-19 pandemic) and her ability to lead this Department in the future, members of the committee voted against recommending her nomination to the full Senate with a party line 3-2 vote.
Senate Republicans, who now have a decision to make about Dr. Cullen’s future employment at the Department of Health Services, had plenty to say after the hearing was complete. Senator John Kavanagh tweeted, “Her repressive covid policies when she led Pima County Health included an illegal 10pm-5am curfew.” Senator Sonny Borrelli wrote, “Why would @GovernorHobbs appoint Dr. Cullen to a critical position, such as state health director, when her testimony in committee clearly showed she makes decisions based on politics and not commonsense or data?” Senator Anthony Kern stated, “Dr. Cullen prided herself on locking down Pima County, ruining the livelihoods of her constituents while she raked in a comfortable $200,000/yr. salary.” Committee Member Janae Shamp said, “Dr. Cullen provided misleading responses and failed to accept responsibility for her record.” Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope tweeted, “I respect Dr. Cullen’s experience, but her poor judgement in Pima County reflects poorly on her – and even more poorly on Hobbs.” And Senator Wendy Rogers left no doubt with her thoughts from the hearing: “True leaders never reply, ‘I don’t know’ to tough questions. Shame on @GovernorHobbs for nominating Pima county’s MEDICAL TYRANT Dr. Theresa Cullen for State Health Director.”
Governor Katie Hobbs was also not happy after the hearing – but for different reasons than legislative Republicans. She released a statement, saying, “What we witnessed today was an exercise in political theater, and it is a shame that Arizonans have to suffer for it. Dr. Admiral Cullen has a distinguished career in medicine and public health that spans decades, and I stand by her nomination. Her dedication and vision in making our state the healthiest it can be is exactly what Arizona needs right now.”
Daniel Scarpinato, a Chief of Staff to former Governor Doug Ducey, had some valuable insight about the committee process and genesis, tweeting, “All Governors must work with the Legislature. It’s part of our process and a system taught in basic civics. The Arizona Senate gets to determine how they want to conduct the process, and I think the one they have developed is a very good one.” He went on to say that “No one can accuse this AZ Senate Committee of being a partisan exercise. Their questions are fair and appropriate. Sen. Hoffman is doing an excellent job as Chairman.”
Both Dr. Cullen’s and Rodgers’ nominations now head to the full Senate chamber for a vote on their future in the Hobbs’ administration.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.