On Wednesday morning, Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake was set to sit down for a one-on-one interview co-hosted by Arizona PBS and the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission at 3:30 in the afternoon, after Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs declined to participate in a gubernatorial candidate debate.
But by the end of the day, that plan was off, Hobbs had her own one-on-one scheduled with Arizona PBS and Lake wouldn’t say whether she was planning to participate in a different interview with the station.
Instead of sitting down for a 30-minute interview with longtime Arizona PBS journalist Ted Simons as planned, Lake held an impromptu half-hour press conference at 4 p.m. outside the station’s studios in which she blasted Hobbs, Arizona PBS and Arizona State University (which owns and operates the station).
“Unfortunately, I’m running against a coward who’s afraid to stand on a debate stage and talk about what she wants to do for Arizona. And unfortunately, PBS and ASU have done a backroom deal with that coward to give her airtime that she does not deserve,” Lake said.
During the news conference, Lake stood in front of a pair of oversized prop checks showing the payouts that Arizona has sent to Talonya Adams, a former Senate staffer who won a lawsuit alleging she faced discrimination and retaliation as a Democratic staffer during the time Hobbs was the Democratic leader in the Senate. She didn’t answer journalists’ questions on issues from abortion to early voting to the 2020 election.
Lake didn’t provide evidence of a “backroom deal,” and the exact timeline that led to the turn of events remained unclear. But Wednesday’s events represented yet another twist in a gubernatorial debate saga that’s already lasted two months and isn’t over yet.
In an appearance on MSNBC on Wednesday morning, Hobbs trotted out her usual explanation for declining to join Lake on the debate stage, and also dropped the news that she would have her own appearance on Arizona PBS.
“How do you debate someone who refuses to accept the truth, who doesn’t live in facts? It doesn’t do any service to voters,” Hobbs said. “In fact, PBS is also giving me the same format that Kari Lake has, so she certainly will not go unanswered,” she added moments later.
A spokeswoman for the Hobbs campaign said the interview was set for next Tuesday, Oct. 18.
It seemed like a win for Hobbs, who had long argued that PBS and the Clean Elections Commission should ditch the debate plans in favor of two separate, town-hall style events with the candidates.
But the Clean Elections Commission had explicitly rejected that idea a month ago and said that if Hobbs wouldn’t show up and face Lake onstage, then the commission would revert to a one-on-one with Lake. (That’s what happened in the Democratic primary, when Hobbs declined to debate challenger Marco Lopez.)
And the move to offer a separate interview to Hobbs on Arizona PBS – albeit in an event that wouldn’t be officially connected to the Clean Elections Commission – caught the commission off guard.
The Clean Elections Commission said it was surprised to learn about PBS’ plans and was postponing the event in response.
“This decision is disappointing, especially following the multiple attempts on behalf of all the partners involved in producing this year’s general election debates, to organize a traditional gubernatorial debate between the two candidates,” the commission wrote in a statement. They said they would “identify a new venue, partner and date” for the event.
Lake responded with a blistering statement calling the move a “betrayal” and claiming PBS “caved” to Hobbs’ demands.
In a statement provided by a spokesman, ASU Cronkite School Dean Battinto Batts made it clear that an offer was on the table for both candidates, but it wasn’t connected to the Clean Elections Commission.
“Arizona PBS has offered both Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs a 30-minute interview as candidates for governor, as part of our Horizon news program. It is our responsibility as a news agency to provide the public with access to the candidates who are running for office so they can learn more and make informed decisions,” Batts said.
The Hobbs campaign declined to say when it got the offer from PBS and a PBS spokesman didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment about the timeline.
The Hobbs campaign blamed Lake for the drama.
“Kari Lake is once again creating chaos and proving she has no interest in a real conversation about the issues facing Arizonans. Lake is refusing to show up to speak to Arizona voters because she doesn’t want to answer for her extreme record,” spokeswoman Sarah Robinson said in a text message.
At the press conference, Lake evaded reporters’ questions about her stance on policy issues like abortion and news events like an effort in Cochise County to hand count all ballots in the 2022 election. (Lake previously filed a lawsuit seeking to force hand counting throughout the state.)
At one point, she even suggested that her views on some policy areas aren’t relevant.
“I don’t think you all realize that the legislature writes our election law, right? Legislature,” she said. “So whatever I want really doesn’t matter. It’s what the legislature comes up with and then I work with them.”
She also brought up her recently-announced plan to wipe out municipal taxes on groceries and rent.
The event was punctuated by anti-Lake protestors screaming interruptions, sometimes including obscenities.
Even while dodging questions about whether she would accept her own invitation to appear on PBS’ Horizon show, Lake said there’s one event she’s going to show up for.
“I will show up on Tuesday,” Lake said, referring to the date of Hobbs’ scheduled interview with PBS, “and I expect to be on a debate stage with her.”