Hobbs so far undeterred by GOP withholding nominees

Hobbs, Trump, director nominations, Senate

Gov. Katie Hobbs speaks as she gives the State of the State address, Jan. 9, 2023, at the Capitol in Phoenix. After months of arguing with Senate Republicans, Hobbs on Sept. 25 pulled the plug on their appointee confirmation process by reassigning her picks to lead state departments as “deputy directors.” (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Hobbs so far undeterred by GOP withholding nominees

Senate Republicans finally deployed an option against the governor they’ve held all year, refusing to consider her nominees to various offices, but it seems to have had no effect.

Gov. Katie Hobbs and Senate Republicans have clashed all year over Hobbs’ picks to join various agencies, boards and commissions.

Now, Senate Republicans say Hobbs has gone too far with executive orders giving the attorney general the power to handle all abortion-related lawsuits, allowing “gender-affirming” health care to be covered under the state health plan for state employees and banning state-funds for conversion therapy.

After the executive order on abortion, members of the Senate Committee on Director Nominations said they refuse to consider any more of Hobbs’ nominees until she rescinds her order.

Two days later, she issued two more executive orders, ignored the Senate Republicans’ request for a meeting, and doubled down on her existing order.

On July 6, Hobbs reiterated that she won’t rescind her executive order on abortion.

“I think she has to be careful to not outrun public opinion,” said consultant Tyler Montague. “It just feels like too much too fast.”

Democratic consultant Tony Cani however, said what many staunch Democrats did in the wake of Hobbs’ orders, “People shouldn’t be acting surprised, this is what they campaigned on.” With abortion in particular, he thinks Hobbs isn’t going too far at all.

One thing that takes some of the sting out of the Republicans’ refusal to hear nominees is that they haven’t confirmed many of the candidates anyway. Hobbs sent 22 names to the legislature of appointees to various boards, agencies and commissions, but in six months, only five agency directors were fully confirmed, and 11 nominees in total.

“I don’t think there’s much of an indication that they’re planning on approving a lot of these other nominees anyway,” Cani said.

Nominees can serve for a year without Senate confirmation. Under former Gov. Doug Ducey, some served longer, but it wasn’t challenged. Hobbs told reporters last month that she doesn’t want to make her agency directors into deputy directors permanently and let them run their agencies that way.

Republican consultant Tyler Montague thinks that Hobbs is pushing the envelope too far with her orders, but Cani thinks these are issues that a wide array of voters can get behind, not just staunchly liberal Democrats.

Of these orders on abortion, conversion therapy and gender-affirming health care, Montague said they are intended to get people angry and stir up political energy. “Like most culture war battles, they’re really super hypothetical or very small percentage things occupying the public mind, right?” He referred to much talked about non-discrimination ordinances in certain cities, which lead to very few citations.

So far, no one has been prosecuted for performing an abortion in Arizona during Hobbs’ time in office, and it’s not clear how many state employees are seeking gender-affirming care, or how much taxpayer money (if any) is funding conversion therapy in Arizona.

Cani believes the orders will be effective against Republicans in the upcoming campaign season. “(House Speaker Ben) Toma sending a letter of defending conversion therapy? I mean, that’s the speaker of the House. … These are not popular opinions,” Cani said.

Montague doesn’t agree. He said the orders seem to be for show and guessed that they will alienate swing voters.

That’s exactly the population Cani thinks will appreciate Hobbs’ move. “These past couple of executive orders highlight issues that she was very open about on the campaign trail, and that are unpopular positions that the fringe wing of the Republican party that controls the legislature (has),” Cani said.

The legislature passed a resolution this year which, if approved by voters in 2024, would limit the governor’s power to issue executive orders. However, they’ll still have to deal with Hobbs’ current authority for at least another year.

If Hobbs’ order is unconstitutional and she won’t rescind it willingly, then it seems that the inevitable place for the battle to play out is in court.

Also, if Hobbs allows agency heads to serve without Senate confirmation, disregarding the requirements of the law, there must be a court battle.

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, isn’t convinced that Hobbs won’t reconsider rescinding her orders somewhere down the road. “‘No’ has a short shelf life on the Arizona State Capitol,” he said.

It’s not clear what more, if anything, legislative Republicans can do to reign in Hobbs and her orders. “I think lawsuits and negotiations are not the only arrows in the quiver. And public relations obviously. So those are the three tools that they have,” Kavanagh said.