Hoping to undo damage to her gubernatorial bid, Democrat Katie Hobbs has issued a new apology to the staffer she fired in 2015 while she was minority leader in the state Senate.
In a video posted December 8, Hobbs acknowledged that her response to Talonya Adams winning a $2.75 million verdict against the Senate in her discrimination case “fell short of taking real accountability.”
“Please allow me to say this clearly and unequivocally,” Hobbs said. “I apologize to Ms. Adams. I’m truly sorry for the real harm that I caused Ms. Adams and her family.”
Nowhere in the statement, however, does Hobbs admit what the federal court jury concluded: that Adams, a Black woman, was fired in retaliation for complaining about being paid less than white male policy advisors.
Hobbs testified during the trial that she had “lost confidence” in Adams.
After the verdict last month, Hobbs would not comment, instead having Jennah Rivera, who is her campaign spokeswoman, issue a prepared statement.
That statement did not directly address the issue at trial of whether Adams, as a Black woman, was treated different than other staffers. Instead, Rivera said there was – and is – a “systemic” problem of Democratic staffers being paid less than those who work for Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate.
That led to comments that Hobbs really wasn’t addressing the reality that two separate federal court juries had found that Adams was the victim of discrimination in how she was paid and treated and that she was fired for complaining about it. On December 8, Hobbs acknowledged as much.
“My response to the jury verdict was short sighted, unnecessarily defensive, and failed to meet the moment,” Hobbs said.
In fact, the closest Hobbs came to acknowledging any culpability actually came during one of the trials when she said she wished she had “been a better ally” to Adams at the time Adams was complaining about salary inequities.
“I need to be more than an ally,” Hobbs said now. “I need to be your advocate.”
And she promised to do better.
“My campaign will continue to recruit, hire and elevate women and people of color to leadership positions,” she said.
Hobbs also said that if she is elected, she will create the position of “chief equity officer” with the goal of creating a more diverse government. And she said she would create a position within each state agency “dedicated to collaborating with communities of color and marginalized communities.”
Pollster Mike Noble of OH Predictive Insights said the whole issue has damaged her campaign.
“Hobbs went from a position of pretty safe in her primary,” he said. And he said her “missteps” in handling the issue is “casting doubt on how viable a candidate she is.”
Noble said even if Hobbs can outlast her less-well-funded Democratic foes, all this could still create problems in the general election.
How she had handled the verdict has left some members of the Black community less than satisfied. Cloves Campbell, publisher of the Arizona Informant, said Hobbs failed to take responsibility.
“If she can do that kind of stuff while she’s in the Legislature, if she can sit there and lie as secretary of state, what can we expect from her as governor?” he told Capitol Media Services after the first apology.
Campbell said December 8 that, as far as he is concerned, there’s nothing new in the latest one.
“I threw it where it belongs, which is in the trash,” he said.
Sandra Kennedy, a former legislator and, as a current member of the Arizona Corporation Commission the only Black elected to statewide office, also said she was not impressed by the latest statement.
“I think this is just politically expedient for her,” she said.
“It comes really late,” Kennedy continued. “Is she really asking the community who’ve been standing behind Ms. Adams to just forgive her and forget?”
Adams declined to comment, saying she will have a press conference on December 9 to address the issue.
But some members of the Black community are apparently ready to move on.
While Hobbs continues to refuse to do interviews, she did have an audience with about 30 Black leaders on December 8. Among those present was Garrick McFadden, a Democrat who waged an unsuccessful race for Congress in 2018, the same time Hobbs got elected secretary of state.
McFadden told Capitol Media Services he thinks that, after being battered over her initial response, she finally understands what she did and why it was wrong.
“I think a light clicked in on the subtle uses of racism and how what she did was racist,” he said.
McFadden said Hobbs probably didn’t see herself or her activities as having a racial bias.
“Part of the dissonance she was feeling was, ‘I’m not a Klansman,’ ” he said.
But McFadden said that sometimes white people do not understand there are other, more subtle forms of racism. And McFadden, who is an attorney, said the fact that a jury returned such a large verdict in a place like Arizona should have made it clear to her that others clearly saw what happened to Adams as being racially motivated.
He said the Hobbs that spoke now gets it.
“She was visibly vulnerable and she was scared,” McFadden said.
“She was nervous, she was pensive, she came close to tears,” he said. “She got a standing ovation.”
But Campbell said McFadden “hasn’t been here long enough” to be a leader in the Black community.
“I’ve been here 50 years,” Campbell said. “And I’ve never been in the same room with him two times.”
Hobbs’ two foes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Rep. Aaron Lieberman of Paradise Valley and former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez both have sought to gain advantage from the charges and the verdict.