A Senate panel took a cordial tone today – after some fractious prior meetings – and voted unanimously to approve two of Gov. Katie Hobbs’ department nominees.
After a little more than three and a half hours of discussion, the Senate Committee on Director Nominations voted to approve Department of Forestry and Fire Management forester nominee Tom Torres and Department of Public Safety director nominee Jeff Glover. The Senate will ultimately vote as a body to make the final approval or rejection.
So far, the senators not involved in the committee have been taking their cues from committee members on how to vote. Only one nominee, Dr. Theresa Ann Cullen was rejected by the Senate.
Torres has worked in the fire management field for more than 30 years. Glover also has significant experience in public safety and was the chief of police for Tempe. They both got a warm reception from the committee and glowing reviews in public comment. Committee Chair Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, congratulated each nominee as they earned the committee’s votes.
In former Senate “DINO” hearings, Hoffman and other members repeated questions several times and were frustrated by indirect responses from nominees. He said in the last hearing that he would hold off on considering a particular candidate, Arizona Department of Administration director nominee Elizabeth Thorson, and not consider “evasive” nominees in the future. Hoffman asked Thorson one question ten times before getting a response. It seems that going forward, the nominees are taking a much more direct approach to the process.
The committee certainly took a different tone on Monday, with members not having to repeat their questions. Before the meeting started, Hoffman said he sent a questionnaire to the nominees asking them if they’d answer questions honestly, provide direct answers, and use “yes” or “no” to answer yes or no questions. He said that Glover and Torres responded with an identical answer that they’ll answer questions, which Glover said after the committee is what they were directed to do by the governor’s staff. Hoffman had them answer each question again directly at the start of their discussions in the committee.
Hobbs’ spokeswoman Josselyn Berry tweeted suggesting that Hoffman’s relatively positive reception of Glover and Torres is due to their gender as the more tense conversations happened with female nominees.
“It is the ultimate irony that the staff of Katie Hobbs, the only woman in state government whose conduct has been twice convicted of gender and racial discrimination by two federal courts, is accusing others of exhibiting bias. The Nominations Committee has voted to confirm two-thirds of the nominees it has held hearings for, fifty percent of whom have been women. It’s unfortunate that Hobbs and her staff continue to engage in childish name calling and partisan political games,” Hoffman said in a text.
Relations between the governor’s office and the Legislature have been strained throughout the session. Republican leadership and Hobbs refuse to entertain many of another’s ideas, and there’s been consistent mudslinging for the past several months, even on bipartisan issues.
Monday’s hearing was the new committee’s third meeting and the first in a month, after two controversial February hearings made clear that the Republicans on the panel planned to grill Hobbs’ nominee in a way unseen in modern Arizona politics.
It also comes after revelations about Hoffman’s tactics in pressing other nominees on political issues.
On March 9, he sent several pages of questions to Arizona Department of Environmental Quality nominee Karen Peters, the Arizona Republic reported. Hoffman’s questions touched on hot-button subjects like Peters’ opinions on climate change, and California’s move to ban sales of new gas vehicles by 2035.
Glover and Torres moved smoothly and candidly through questions about systematic racism – which Glover said he doesn’t believe police officers are perpetuating – and about climate change, which Torres acknowledged is a concern for him. He also agreed with Hoffman that Hobbs’ decision to cut his department’s funding in her budget proposal is questionable.
In Hobbs’ budget proposal, she cuts the ongoing funding for DFFM dramatically. The proposed budget would slash DFFM’s funding from $231,096 down to $159,997.7. Hoffman brought that up in committee and asked why, with Arizona’s growing need for resources to address wildfires, that would be necessary. “Understanding that there may be a significant shortfall in the budget is concerning,” Torres said.
“We’re evaluating for FY25,” Berry said in a text about the budget. “That’s because we’re not sure how much funding they actually need and are reassessing what is a more accurate amount of funding.” She did not yet say whether the department’s funding will ultimately increase or decrease.
Torres avoided most of the friction that other DINO meetings have included, but he disagreed with Hoffman on some of the finer points of how best to handle wildfires. Hoffman criticized Torres and the federal government for their handling of the Telegraph Fire, which destroyed a few dozen homes in 2021. Torres explained how the unified fire teams drew their line and backburned to prevent the fire’s spread into communities like Globe and Superior. Hoffman told Torres he needs to prioritize protecting private property and said several times that he wants Torres – who worked for the USDA – to commit to “shedding his allegiance” to the federal government.
Hoffman said after the meeting that the next DINO meeting might be as soon as next Monday, but he said they haven’t decided which nominees will be considered in the upcoming meeting.
Arizona Capitol Times reporter Nick Phillips contributed to this report.C