Hard ball politics: Arizona Republicans created a special committee to evaluate Hobbs' cabinet appointees
Governor's office said the GOP is focused on 'playing games' & not actually governing
Republicans moved to create a new committee Thursday that aims to “evaluate executive nominations,” setting the stage for a major political battle between Gov. Katie Hobbs and Senate Republicans.
The new panel, which exists solely to consider the people Hobbs appoints to lead dozens of state agencies, will be led by Sen. Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican who heads up the 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.
“Now, make no mistake, this is a check on executive authority but that is exactly what the legislature is supposed to do,” Hoffman said Thursday on the Senate floor, adding that Hobbs has only sent the Senate information on two of her 25 appointees.
Hobbs’ office panned the idea as an attempt by Republican lawmakers to distract from the real problems facing the state that require swift action.
“The most pressing issue the Legislature is dealing with right now is the AEL,” Press Secretary for Gov. Katie Hobbs, Josselyn Berry said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror, referencing an impending $1.4 billion cut to school spending.
If lawmakers don’t waive a constitutional school spending limit, AEL, before March 1, school districts will be forced to make drastic cuts that could result in widespread furloughs and school closures.
“They should be focusing on that and not playing games with the nomination process,” Berry added. “Our timeline for cabinet nominations is on par with previous administrations, and we will continue to work at an appropriate pace. These kind of antics are just meant to be a distraction.”
Republicans have been complaining since late last month that Hobbs is dragging her feet on sending her cabinet appointees to the Senate, which is required to confirm them.
Democratic senators on Thursday argued that they were blindsided by the move to create the committee, much like they said they were when Republicans dropped budget bills for the “skinny budget” which Hobbs has signaled she will veto.
“I don’t call it disrespect, I call it inconsideration,” Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, said. “I think by passing a budget yesterday without our input, and now with this, you are setting the precedent for how we move forward.”
The committee will review Hobbs’ appointments and then make recommendations to the Senate on what action to take. This is a novel approach: 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 must still approve any gubernatorial nominee.
Now, all appointments will go before the one committee chaired by Hoffman that has three Republicans and two Democrats.
Doug Cole, a former deputy chief of staff for Republican Gov. Fife Symington, told the Mirror that, while the nomination process for executive nominees has often been politicized, the move to put it under one committee is “unusual” and “unprecedented” in Arizona’s political history.
For two years while Symington was governor, Democrats controlled the state Senate. Cole said that lawmakers then denied nominees for positions that Symington appointed, leading to standoffs between the two branches.
“It is a different flavor,” Cole said of how the process is being politicized now.
“We see that it is within the Senate’s right to exert their political authority,” Cole said. “It has just not taken this form in the past.”
The Arizona Constitution allows the Senate to create its own rules and procedures on how it operates; earlier this year the Senate changed its rules on debate on the floor, limiting it to 30 minutes with no exceptions and changing rules on public records.
State law dictates that, if the Senate does not give “consent” to a nominee, they will only serve for one year and then resign.
Nominees will have to wait their turn to be heard by the newly formed committee, which will then make a recommendation to the full Senate.
Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, went through that process when Symington appointed him to the State Board of Education and spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about how he fought to be confirmed. More than a decade later, Bennett served as president of the Senate, pointing to a picture of himself hung on the walls of the Senate floor during his speech.
“I remember standing in the gallery watching members vote ‘yes’ and vote ‘no,’” Bennett said. “Every president gets to do things a little differently. This is not how I did it during my four years, but I am going to trust the president and the majority caucus in the way they are going to do it.”
Bennett added that he didn’t see it as a “divided government” but a “shared government,” and that he hoped Democratic members and Republican members could learn to work together. He also said he hoped the process would be fair and apologized to his Democratic colleagues for the sudden move.
“I apologize that it feels a little crammed down your throat today,” Bennett said.
Cole said that Hoffman’s assertion that the legislature is asserting its duty is correct.
“The House can’t tell them how to do their duties, the Supreme Court can’t tell them how to do their duties, nor can the Governor’s Office,” Cole said. While Arizona has a history of politicizing nominees, Cole said, it will be interesting to watch how the newly formed committee process plays out.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.