Democrats won big at the ballot box in 2018 with gains in the state House, two statewide offices and a U.S. Senate seat.
But even with the 17-13 split in the Senate, the 31-29 split in the House, the Democrat who accomplished the most during the First Regular Session of the 54th Legislature is the one who was criticized for her lack of political experience during the campaign – and she wasn’t even a lawmaker.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman accomplished a majority of her legislative agenda and was directly responsible for Gov. Doug Ducey signing three bills into law; more than any other Democrat in the House or Senate. Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, got two bills signed into law, while eight other Democrats each got a single bill passed and signed.
Hoffman said her first session exceeded her expectations and credits her new policy team for making that possible.
“We got more done than expected. … Overall we were really proud,” she said.
Stefan Swiat, Hoffman’s spokesman, said her approach to advancing departmental initiatives is the biggest difference he can think of compared to Superintendent Diane Douglas, his former boss.
“Superintendent Hoffman prefers to create task forces and invite stakeholders affected by the program or policy to the table to govern by consensus,” he said, giving as an example the handling of the menu of achievement tests the State Board of Education was charged with selecting. “Stakeholders from all sides of the political spectrum all weighed in on how to proceed before the superintendent brought a solution to the State Board.”
He said in contrast, when Douglas, a Republican, felt passionately about an issue she would proceed based on her beliefs, even if there wasn’t a consensus from stakeholders.
Hoffman highlighted her biggest accomplishment as the repeal of a 1991 law barring the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle and safe homosexual sex in mandated HIV and AIDS education in public schools, known as the “no promo homo” law.
“I would not have predicted that would pass so quickly,” she said adding that LGBTQ issues are not as controversial as they once were.
She said the Legislature likely balked at repealing this in recent sessions because it prevented legislators from having to vote on it.
“They may not support the issues, but they didn’t want to vote against something in the best interest of kids.”
Even though her support was crucial in the repeal, Hoffman does not take sole credit. She said this wouldn’t have happened without the help of Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who made it known to lawmakers that he would not defend a legal challenge to the law filed two weeks before the April 11 vote to repeal it.
“I helped propel it forward and then [Brnovich] helped propel it forward. It was a snowball effect that got it rolling in Lege.” she said.
Hoffman addressed this issue as a top concern in her State of Education speech to the House Education Committee in early February and it got the immediate attention of Rep. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge.
Shope credited Hoffman’s speech as the reason he became aware of the law that needed to be repealed, so he sponsored a floor amendment to the only education bill available and it passed 55-5 before the Senate would approve it 19-10.
In addition to the repeal that was years in the making, Hoffman’s support was pivotal in reducing the English Language Learners time block from four to two hours.
Educators have pushed lawmakers for years to revise the mandate, which requires English-learning students to take four hours of English immersion every day, where they are separated from their peers.
Though it wasn’t always pretty, Hoffman was still able to cross party lines to achieve her goals on divisive topics such as a bill that holds harmless some Navajo families in the Window Rock area from reimbursing the state after unintentionally spending their Empowerment Scholarship Account dollars illegally.
Hoffman said she was proud of how it came together in the end. It passed unanimously in both chambers and Ducey signed the bill on June 8.
Working across party lines was a priority for Hoffman coming into the session she said, going as far to figure out who the moderate Republicans are and the legislators on the Education Committees.
“It was strategic,” Hoffman said.
All three of the bills Hoffman pushed to become law had Republican sponsors. The ELL bill had Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, “no promo homo” would not have made it to the floor without an amendment from Shope, and Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, sponsored the ESA bill.
Hoffman said she did not work with Petersen or Sen. Rick Gray – who pushed a mirror bill in the Senate – on the ESA solution for the Navajo students in Window Rock.
After just one session, one where politicos applauded Hoffman for her “upset” wins over her political opponents, she accomplished a lot she set out to do, but she still has three years left.
“There is still more to do,” Hoffman said.