Az GOP push to override veto of 'tamale bill' fails after Democrats balk at going against Hobbs
An attempt by Arizona Republicans to rebuke Gov. Katie Hobbs for vetoing a bill aimed at expanding the sale of homemade foods failed after most legislative Democrats sided with her, slamming the move to override her veto as just another effort to undermine her.
Last week, Hobbs rejected House Bill 2509, dubbed the “Tamale Bill,” which would have relaxed the rules around food products Arizonans can make in their own kitchens to sell. Currently, perishable foods that require refrigeration are prohibited, but the bill would have removed that ban and allowed the sale of products like tamales, cheesecakes or other time and temperature-sensitive goods.
The Arizona Department of Health Services registered its opposition to the measure changing the rules for the sale of so-called “cottage foods” shortly before it won approval from the state Senate, and Hobbs cited public health concerns in her veto letter.
“This bill would significantly increase the risk of food-borne illness by expanding the ability of cottage food vendors to sell high-risk foods,” she wrote.
The decision prompted outrage on social media from lawmakers who touted its widespread approval. It won supermajority support in both legislative chambers, earning a 45-11 vote in the House and a 26-4 vote in the Senate. Republicans accused Hobbs of not caring about hard-working Arizonans trying to make ends meet and vowed to override her dismissal, billing the effort as a defense of food vendors — and those in the Hispanic community, in particular.
But Democrats were quick to criticize the veto override as political theater and promised to vote against the effort.
On Tuesday, Republicans in the state House of Representatives put the override up for a vote anyway, undeterred by its certain doom. A two-thirds supermajority in both legislative chambers is required for a veto override to succeed, and in the end the House fell short of the necessary 40 votes; only five of the 17 Democrats who initially voted for the bill supported the override.
Republicans criticized Democrats who had previously voted to pass the bill, denouncing them as cowed by their party.
“If you’re afraid of Governor Hobbs, vote no,” said Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, who authored the bill.
“(The opposition to) this bill is about control, it’s about (not) embarrassing the governor. It’s about her trying to walk back a veto that she knows she was wrong. And rather than tell the emperor she is wearing no clothes, you double down?” asked Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande.
Rep. Alma Hernandez, who vociferously supported the bill and opposed Hobbs’ veto, shared that, growing up, her mother baked and sold cakes to support her family. The Tucson Democrat criticized her fellow Democrats for switching their positions. Her allegiance, she said, was to Arizonans, not Hobbs.
“We were elected by our constituents, not by Governor Hobbs,” she said. “I will never forget where I came from. I will never forget the community that works hard in my district, the single mothers that I personally know.”
Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Goodyear, whose mother sold tamales to support her family and later help him pay for college, accused lawmakers voting against the override of not caring about the Latino community or immigrants.
“If you’re voting no on this bill today, don’t ever come tell me that you support Latinos, don’t ever come tell me that you support the immigrant community,” he said heatedly. “These are the issues that matter to them: Being able to put food on their table, being able to take care of their kids and put their kids through school.”
Democrats rebutted that the override attempt was nothing more than political pandering. Rep. Cesar Aguilar, who also outlined his immigrant roots, pointed out that the original bill isn’t specific to tamales or immigrant vendors. It expands the list of permitted foods to all meat-based products, but Republicans have latched onto the imagery of the tamale vendor to garner public empathy, Aguilar said.
“Don’t let this bill fool you,” the Phoenix Democrat said. “This bill will impact all meat products, but for some reason the only meats we want to talk about are tamales. Nobody is talking about barbecue, nobody is talking about hamburgers, nobody is talking about hotdogs, et cetera, because they want to target the Latino community.”
Aguilar sought to contrast Arizona Republicans’ championing of tamale vendors with their history of anti-immigrant policies, including SB1070, but was immediately interrupted by an uproar from GOP lawmakers, who used a procedural move to stop him.
Also cut off was Rep. Mariana Sandoval, D-Goodyear, who questioned why the majority party refused to hear pro-immigrant bills if it was committed to the welfare of immigrants.
“If we are serious about helping indigent immigrant communities, why didn’t we give undocumented individuals driver’s licenses?” she asked, before being stopped.
Sandoval is a co-sponsor of House Bill 2604, which sought to eliminate the proof of citizenship requirement for driver’s license applications.
She noted that there is still ample opportunity for the legislature to expand the list of food products sold by Arizonans, echoing a statement issued by Senate Democrats that voiced a willingness to help craft an improved version. Additions that have been proposed include allowing the Department of Health Services to inspect home kitchens and implementing an annual revenue cap — both of which were lambasted by override supporters on Tuesday as nonstarters.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.