A Senate committee charged with reviewing gubernatorial nominees held a candidate from consideration on Monday and pledged to hold all future nominees who don’t clearly answer questions after a lengthy questioning process frustrated committee Republicans.
Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs has sent the Senate several names to consider in the past weeks, but none have cleared the chamber yet, as they must in order to be officially instated.
The Senate’s Director Nominations committee questioned four candidates, approved two, recommended the rejection of one, and held Arizona Department of Administration director nominee Elizabeth Thorson.
Republicans on the committee grilled Thorson for two hours but were frustrated by vague responses on three issues: government grants, abortion policy and implementation of legislation from the state Legislature.
Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, started his line of questioning on Hobbs’ recent cancellation of contracts that the former governor started using federal Covid relief monies. Hobbs’ team argued that the contracts were illegal because there wasn’t a competitive bidding process for organizations that received money.
Thorson said several times that she was not involved in cancelling those contracts and was only recently made aware of the situation.
Republicans said that’s a concerning lack of communication on Hobbs’ part – as ADOA has a risk mitigation component for the state that members argue should be utilized before ending a contract.
“I’m troubled by what appears to be a total lack of communication by the Hobbs administration,” committee chair Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, said.
The committee spent the most amount of time on abortion and a campaign promise by Hobbs to only hire pro-choice directors for the Department of Health Services, AHCCCS and ADOA.
Thorson then acknowledged that she is pro-choice but assured the committee that her position won’t affect her role as director if she is approved.
Hoffman asked Thorson ten times how she would respond if Hobbs asked ADOA to include abortion services in benefit, or time off to get abortions. Thorson wouldn’t answer the question the first nine times, but after the tenth time, she said, “if a directive comes from the governor … within the confines of the law, we would implement it.”
Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa, interjected to point out that it’s a HIPAA violation for the government to ask an employee what medical appointments they need time off for, but she was shut down by Hoffman. Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, pointed out that state law already prohibits state funding going to provide abortions – so it couldn’t be covered by benefits – after which point Hoffman specified the hypothetical time off.
The Assistant Director for Legal Services of ADOA also serves as the chair of the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council.
“Would your approach then – would it be safe to say – it would continue to be the reduction of regulations?” Hoffman asked Thorson regarding her oversight of Governor’s Regulatory Review Council. He referred to former Gov. Doug Ducey’s goals in reducing regulations, and former Republican ADOA Director Andy Tobin’s efforts to that effect.
Thorson said she didn’t have enough information on the topic and would rely on the chair for answers.
Hoffman referred to a new law implemented by former Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, last session which requires any agency making a rulemaking request to recommend three existing rules to eliminate for every new rule added.
Thorson was vague on how she’s implementing that law, but Tobin later assured the committee that laws are being implemented. In public comment, he and other officials spoke in favor of Thorson’s appointment.
Republicans were wary of Thorson in their closing comments and referred to her answers on cancelled contracts and abortion. “Some of your non-answers were very concerning to me today,” Sen. Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, said.
Hoffman made the last withering comments. He told Thorson she doesn’t seem to know what Hobbs is going to do with ADOA, and that Thorson has “no insight” on the department she wants to run. He referred again to cancelled contracts and his concern about taxpayer-funded abortions.
“I think the most egregious thing that I saw today was an unwillingness to have an honest and forthright and direct conversation. This committee – not only myself – Senator Kerr asked questions, Senator Shope asked questions; we did not get direct answers that were honest and forthright to our questions. We got dodges, we got pivoting, we got political spin. That’s not what these confirmation hearings are for, and so I have to say directly to Katie Hobbs and to her staff: your nominees have to be able to come in here and have an honest, direct and thorough conversation with us. We will not be a rubber stamp.” Hoffman said. He warned that all other nominees will need to answer better than Thorson.
The committee will have her back later for more questions and a vote.
Sen. President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, tweeted during the hearing about his disapproval of Thorson for similar reasons. “Looks like the new tactic of the 9th floor is to tell their nominees to evade or not answer questions. Glad the committee made it clear that no one will advance who does not directly answer questions. Citizens deserve direct and honest answers,” he wrote.