Saying that the Arizona Senate’s new process for confirming her cabinet appointments is a “political circus,” overly “partisan” and too slow, Gov. Katie Hobbs has withdrawn all her nominees and said she will instead pursue “other lawful means” to ensure state agencies have the leaders she wants at the helm.
“It has become apparent over the past nine months that the Senate’s process for reviewing and confirming agency director nominees has devolved into a sad display of partisan obstructionism,” Hobbs said in a letter to Senate President Warren Petersen Monday morning.
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The Committee on Director Nominations, a first of its kind, was created solely to consider the people Hobbs appointed to lead dozens of state agencies. The committee is led by Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, a close ally of Petersen’s and the leader of the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus.
That group, which was formed last year, is modeled on the far-right U.S. House Freedom Caucus that aims to push ultra-conservative policies outside of the regular GOP policy agenda. Earlier this year, the Arizona Freedom caucus said it planned to sue Hobbs over her use of executive orders, although no lawsuit has materialized yet.
Hobbs cited Hoffman’s “extremism” as a major reason for withdrawing her nominees, on top of behavior by Hoffman.
“[Hoffman] has repeatedly tried to leverage the confirmation of qualified nominees for the implementation of his policy preferences within the Executive Branch,” Hobbs wrote, citing a letter sent by Hoffman and other Republican members of the committee who said they’d stop hearing nominees until Hobbs rescinded an executive order banning county attorneys from prosecuting abortion providers.
“[Hoffman] has contacted nominees to imply that their confirmation hinged on the recission of long-standing agency policies which he has no authority over,” Hobbs wrote. “This is not the lawful role of the Senate, and is not a process in which I or my nominees will continue to participate.”
Arizona law requires the state Senate “consent” to gubernatorial nominees. Throughout Arizona’s history, executive nominees have been reviewed by the Senate’s regular standing committees. For example, the nominee to lead the Department of Health Services would be evaluated by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, while the person appointed to lead the Department of Public Safety would go before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The full Senate then must approve the nominee.
“This move by the Executive Branch showcases another prime example of an elected official who believes they’re above the law and will go to extreme measures to bypass the requirements of the law when they don’t get their way,” Petersen said in a written statement, adding that any actions taken by state agencies without Senate-confirmed directors is legally “dubious” and that litigation against the state “would surely prevail.”
Petersen said he is ordering the committee to stay ready to resume hearings and called the move by Hobbs “unlawful.”
“The process is working. Because of the committee’s thorough vetting, we have been able to recommend several directors for appointment and have also rejected those who proved they were not competent to serve,” Petersen said. “We are prepared to receive a new list of nominations. If they are competent and not hyper-partisan, they will have no problem getting confirmed.”
In a separate press release, Hoffman called Hobbs’ letter a “temper tantrum” and said that the committee was doing its job “accurately.” He put the blame on the governor, who he said “has chosen to nominate partisans and ideologues.”
“If the governor wishes to limit her own authority by forgoing rulemaking and other director-required activities in the absence of confirmed directors, we certainly welcome this limitation of her power,” Hoffman said.
The Committee on Director Nominations has met infrequently and has been openly hostile to many of Hobbs’ agency directors, even those who aren’t overly political and who are well qualified.
In total, 13 nominees have been withdrawn from consideration because of the Senate committee’s opposition. They were appointees to agencies such as the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Department of Administration, Department of Child Safety, Department of Housing, Department of Veterans Services and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
The nominees have also been stalled by the committee, even though Hobbs said she has complied by sending all her nominees to the Senate “within a matter of days” of Republicans initially complaining about Hobbs taking too long.
“You have reciprocated with a process designed to slow walk nominees and create a political circus that is beneath the dignity of the Arizona Senate,” Hobbs said. “There are nearly three times as many nominees waiting for your review than have been considered to date. At this rate, I will be well into my second term before your political circus completes its job.”
Hobbs in her letter said that she plans to pursue “other lawful avenues” to appoint the nominees and said that she may consider returning her nominees to the Senate.
That “other lawful” avenue is Hobbs re-assigning her nominees to deputy director appointments, which do not require Senate confirmation, according to Christian Slater, a spokesman for the governor. The administration does not intend to pursue “any other options or actions,” he added.
Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes took to X, formerly Twitter, to defend Hobbs, saying that the move was within the governor’s legal authority.
“No law prohibits the Governor from withdrawing a person’s nomination for an agency director and re-appointing him or her as a deputy director of that agency,” Mayes wrote.
Hobbs left the door open to return to the normal nomination process.
“Should the Senate return to the regular order of confirming nominees as contemplated by the law, or if I am able to find qualified candidates who might satisfy the shifting, amorphous, and partisan standard for confirmation that the Senate appears to have adopted, I will resume sending nominations for the Senate’s review,” Hobbs said.
***UPDATE: This story has been updated twice. The first was to include comments from Senate President Warren Petersen and additional information from the Governor’s Office. The second was to include comments from Sen. Jake Hoffman and Attorney General Kris Mayes.
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