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Hobbs names transition team leaders, outlines Day 1 plans 

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Democrat Katie Hobbs speaks on the set of “Arizona Horizon” prior to a televised interview with host Ted Simons in Phoenix on Oct. 18. Gov.-elect Hobbs announced on Nov. 17 that the top executive of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a former Janet Napolitano aide will lead her transition team. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs announced on Thursday that the top executive of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a former Janet Napolitano aide will lead her transition team.  

Monica Villalobos is an ad executive and consultant who has been president of the Hispanic Chamber since 2019. She’s part of a Republican coalition that supported Hobbs’ campaign. Michael Haener was a deputy chief of staff to Janet Napolitano, Arizona’s last Democratic governor, and is a consultant at Willetta Partners, a firm with Democratic and GOP partners. The pair will serve as co-chairs of the transition team. 

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Monica Villalobos

“Their track record of leadership and commitment to public service are an asset to my team as we build an administration that reflects the diversity and needs of our great state,” Hobbs said in a news release announcing the selection. The news release noted that Villalobos will be “one of the first Latinas to lead a gubernatorial transition team in Arizona.” 

Stacy Pearson, a Democratic strategist, said the choices reflect an emphasis on experience. 

“These picks make it very clear that Gov. Hobbs is looking to the business community and looking to the successful Democratic infrastructure that existed in administrations past to find the right folks for some of these positions,” she said. 

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Michael Haener

Hobbs is currently in South Carolina attending a new governors’ training program put on by the National Governors Association, but she spoke to four reporters on Wednesday about her plans for when she takes office on Jan. 2. 

First up is to call a special session to address abortion. Hobbs has indicated she’s against any abortion restrictions, but in comments this week she has focused on repealing an 1864 state law that bans abortions in all cases except for medical emergencies. Repealing just that law would leave on the books a 15-week ban signed by Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year, but it might be a more palatable move for Republican lawmakers. 

With Republicans poised to hold onto one-vote majorities in both the Arizona Senate and House of Representatives, Hobbs could face an uphill battle getting abortion measures through the legislature. 

Speaking to 12 News, she acknowledged that she hadn’t yet spoken with GOP lawmakers about the plans but said that repealing the 1864 law is “in line with where the majority of Arizonans are” in terms of abortion access. 

“If (lawmakers) really want to represent their constituents, we should be able to come together on things like this,” Hobbs added. 

Pearson said that Hobbs might peel off some moderate GOP legislators to back her plan to repeal the 1864 abortion law in exchange for other promises. She pointed to a comment Hobbs made on AZ Family, indicating that she’s open to nixing the Border Strike Force, as a potential indication of bargaining chips the incoming governor could use. The Strike Force is a division of Arizona DPS that’s supported by Ducey and most Republican lawmakers. 

“Her talking about being open to eliminating (the Border Strike Force), I think, is going to put Republicans in a position to negotiate on abortion that they never expected themselves in,” Pearson said. 

Hobbs also suggested that a ballot measure could be an alternative approach to addressing abortion access – though that wouldn’t happen until the 2024 elections. “We also have the tool of initiative and I think this might be something that needs to be taken to the voters to solve that way,” she said in the AZ Family interview. 

Stan Barnes, a veteran Republican consultant, added that there’s a symbolic purpose to the plan as well. 

“A governor-elect wants to come out strong for the things they’ve been talking about for the last year or two. Even knowing that it may not be successful, it’s an important signal to important constituencies that a governor is doing what she said she would do,” he said. 

Another issue that Hobbs addressed in Wednesday interviews is the lengthy vote-counting process following last week’s election, something that has inspired complaints, mainly from Republicans, that winners aren’t known in key races more than a week after Election Day. 

Part of the reason for that is the tight margin in some races – on Thursday afternoon, with more than 2.5 million ballots counted, fewer than 100 votes separated the Democratic and Republican candidates for attorney general. But it’s also a function of the fact that Arizona law allows people to deposit early ballots into drop boxes on Election Day, which leaves election workers to begin the signature verification process after the polls close. 

Even Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, who has pushed back against complaints related to Arizona’s election administration, said last week that lawmakers might consider changing rules around Election Day ballot drop-offs in order to speed up vote counting. 

But in the AZ Family interview, Hobbs said she “would be really hesitant to make a legislative change that could really impact people’s ability to vote.” Even so, she said she would be open to looking at ways to verify voters’ identity when they drop off early ballots on Election Day, which could eliminate the need for the lengthy signature verification process. 

Beyond impacting Hobbs’ initial priorities, divided power at the state capitol, where a Democrat will occupy the governor’s office and Republicans hold majorities in the legislature, could bring a new dynamic to the Arizona Capitol. 

Pearson predicted that Hobbs would force GOP lawmakers to address issues that they’ve punted on until now, including the Aggregate Expenditure Limit, which restricts public school spending. 

“The Republican legislature is going to be forced to take a position on some of these issues that they have just hidden from for a decade,” she said. 

Barnes said that the political dynamic means both the governor and lawmakers may make some policy moves that go nowhere. 

“Katie Hobbs as governor will put forth policy ideas that don’t make it out of the legislature, and the Republican legislature will put forth bills to the governor’s desk that are dead on arrival. It’s all part of divided government,” he said. 

“When it becomes really interesting is when the legislature does the one thing it must do, and that is pass a budget,” he added. 

The Capitol Times reached out to Hobbs’ campaign for an interview on Tuesday, but a spokeswoman indicated she did not have time. 


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