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Hobbs illegally bypassed the Senate when appointing agency directors, judge rules 

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Hobbs illegally bypassed the Senate when appointing agency directors, judge rules 

Jun 05, 2024 | 7:15 pm ET
By Caitlin Sievers
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Hobbs illegally bypassed the Senate when appointing agency directors, judge rules聽
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Elizabeth Alvarado-Thorson, Gov. Katie Hobbs' nominee for director of the Arizona Department of Administration, testifies in front of the Senate Nominations Committee on Feb. 20, 2023. Alvarado-Thorson's nomination was put on hold after the committee grilled her about her stance on abortion. Screenshot via Arizona Legislature/azleg.gov

Gov. Katie Hobbs defied Arizona law when she circumvented the Senate and nominated directors of statewide agencies without legislative approval, a judge ruled on June 5. 

After the Democrat struggled to get many of her director nominees through a newly created Republican-led Senate approval committee last year, Hobbs went around the chamber and instead appointed deputy directors that essentially served as directors. Agency directors are subject to Senate approval, but deputy directors are not. 

Senate President Warren Petersen, a Queen Creek Republican, filed a suit in December, accusing Hobbs of violating state law by circumventing legislative hearings for her appointees and asking the Maricopa County Superior Court to restore the decades-long practice of requiring Senate approval for nominees. 

In a January court filing in which he asked for the case to be dismissed, Andy Gaona, Hobbs’ attorney, blamed the Senate for essentially giving the governor no other choice than to sidestep the Senate’s Committee on Director Nominations, saying the panel was “designed to slow-walk nominees.”

But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney, who was appointed in 2018 by Republican then-Gov. Doug Ducey, ruled that “the Governor has improperly, unilaterally appointed de facto directors for these 13 agencies, despite the actual job title she has assigned to each of them.”

Blaney conceded that Hobbs’ strategy to appoint deputy directors instead of directors “arguably” complied with some portions of state statutes regarding her duties as governor, but wrote in his decision that she “took those actions for an improper purpose, culminating in an improper result — one that violates Arizona law.” 

“We do not … construe statutory phrases in isolation; we read statutes as a whole,” Blaney wrote. 

The judge concluded that Hobbs must comply with state statutes that require her to nominate agency directors within a certain timeframe and that those nominees must be submitted for the approval of the Arizona Senate. 

“The Governor’s frustration with a co-equal branch of government — even if that frustration was justified — did not exempt her director nominees from Senate oversight,” Blaney wrote. “Each of these de facto directors remains in control of their respective agencies in violation of applicable statutes, but with all the authority of a properly appointed director. These agencies wield tremendous power — they issue rules that have the effect of law and decide when and where to enforce laws and their rules.” 

In a June 5 statement, Petersen said that he was pleased with the court’s interpretation of Arizona law. 

“I look forward to the Governor’s cooperation so that we may reinstate sanity after this chaotic period she created for the entire state of Arizona,” he said. 

Hobbs spokesman Christian Slater told the Arizona Mirror in an emailed statement that the governor’s office believes the ruling is wrong, and plans to appeal it. 

Arizonans want sanity, not the chaos of indicted fake elector Jake Hoffman’s sham committee that he abuses to force his radical political agenda on Arizonans,” Slater said in the statement. “Governor Hobbs stands ready to work with anybody in the Senate who is serious about putting the political games aside and delivering for everyday Arizonans, and as she’s said from day one, she remains open to a fair and timely process for confirmation of nominees.”

Sen. Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican and head of Arizona’s far-right Freedom Caucus, chairs the Committee on Director Nominations. Hoffman was one of Arizona’s 11 fake electors indicted by a grand jury April 23 for attempting to illegally cast Arizona’s electoral votes for then-President Donald Trump in 2020 even though Joe Biden won the race. 

While in past years, Senate confirmations occurred with little fanfare following brief interviews with relevant legislative committees, the process for approving agency heads was a point of  particular contention throughout Hobbs’ first year as governor.

In Hobbs’ request for dismissal, Gaona wrote that the committee engaged in “bad faith conduct” that “impeded the governor’s ability to fulfill her constitutional and statutory duties.”

As an example, Gaona pointed to the committee hearing for Martín Quezada, a former Democratic state senator and Hobbs’ nominee to lead the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, a small state agency that licenses and regulates construction contractors. Gaona described the committee as “non-political.” 

But during Quezada’s hearing, committee members asked him about his opinions on polarizing political issues like transgender athletes, white nationalism, racism and sexism in hiring, mass shootings, antisemitism, border security, the state’s school voucher program, critical race theory and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“Of course, none of this had anything to do with Mr. Quezada’s fitness to head up (the agency),” Gaona wrote. 

The committee voted along party lines not to approve Quezeda’s nomination, and Hobbs then withdrew his nomination. 

“A qualified, longtime public servant was the victim of a Senate committee concerned more with partisan talking points than the serious consideration of executive nominations,” Gaona wrote. 

Hobbs informed Petersen in September of last year that she was withdrawing 13 pending director nominations, and proceeded to reinstate those same nominees as “executive deputy directors,” a title that Senate Republicans called “fake” in the June 5 statement. 

Hobbs claimed that the deputy directors had the same power as Senate-confirmed directors, but promised to work with the nomination committee again in the future, but only if its members agreed to a “fair and timely” confirmation process. 

Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes backed up Hobbs’ decision, saying that no law prohibited the governor from withdrawing a director nomination and then appointing the same person as a deputy director. 

“We’re witnessing a very disturbing trend of our Governor breaking our laws,” Petersen said in his statement. “Contrary to what she may believe, she is not above the law, and the Legislature is fulfilling its role in serving as the constitutional check and balance against her abuse of power.”

Petersen characterized Hobbs’ circumvention of the Senate as a weaponization of state government and an attempt to implement a “radical left agenda.” 

“Unfortunately, every decision made by these fake directors on behalf of our state agencies will be under a microscope, opening the door for a myriad of lawsuits,” he said.