Editor’s note: This story was published in print in our Aug. 25 Session Wrap edition, which reviewed and analyzed the 2023 legislative session.
This session, a new committee designed to vet Gov. Katie Hobbs’ nominees to lead various offices drew outrage from Democrats and was applauded as an effective strategy by Republicans.
“I think it’s very effective. So much so that I’ve told everybody that’s asked me that I don’t believe that a future Legislature will ever go back to the way it was,” Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said.
He said the committee also functioned as a check on Hobbs.
Prior to this session, the Senate – which is tasked with approving the governor’s nominees to head various state agencies – would consider the candidates in existing committees. That’s still happening for appointees to other offices, but not prospective agency directors, who must face the Director Nominations Committee.
Chair Sen. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, is no friend of Hobbs, and in the committee’s first meetings he went after her picks aggressively.
“We committed to conducting a thorough, accurate and honest vetting of her nominees – a process that, when done properly, takes time. Unfortunately for the people of Arizona, Katie Hobbs failed to conduct a thorough vetting process, which has resulted in her having to fire or withdraw numerous nominees due to lack of qualifications or an inability to secure Senate approval. The simple fact of the matter is that Katie has proven she doesn’t make the wisest choices with state agency directors, so the Senate has been forced to step in to make sure we are properly vetting them for her,” Hoffman said.
The committee makes recommendations to the full Senate body on how to vote for nominees.
Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he thinks the committee will continue with the same members and the same process next year, and that in the interim, they’re working to schedule the next committee meeting as soon as possible.
“The Arizona Senate committed to conducting a thorough, accurate and honest vetting of Katie Hobbs’ nominees, which is what we have done thus far, and will continue to do in the future—just as the people of Arizona expect of us,” Hoffman said.
The Senate received the names of 12 director nominees but only half were confirmed by the full Senate.
A few nominees were rejected by the committee and the full Senate, including Hobbs’ pick to lead the Department of Health Services, Theresa Cullen.
A few other nominees were never considered, including Hobbs’ picks to lead the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
This legislative session was the longest in Arizona history, and Republican leaders in the Senate said part of the reason for the length was to continue considering Hobbs’ nominees, but that didn’t really happen.
Hobbs issued a series of polarizing executive orders Republicans, including Hoffman, opposed. He and other members said they would not consider any more of her nominees unless she stopped issuing her orders.
Hobbs then issued two more orders.
Petersen and Hobbs met privately to discuss the issue, but she didn’t meet with Hoffman.
Partisanship was a big factor in the entire committee process. Many of the questions members on the panel lobbed at prospective nominees had to do with hot button political issues like transgender health care and abortion.
Hoffman criticized several nominees for being too left wing, and many insisted that despite their personal views, they wouldn’t push heavy political agendas as agency heads.
“There have been few committees in Arizona history that have more effectively conducted its business. Our work has ensured that only the best, brightest, most qualified, non-partisan individuals are serving in these critical roles, while simultaneously protected the people of Arizona from far-left partisan ideologues and power-hungry bureaucrats,” Hoffman said.
Shope said that the committee’s intense process is a better way to make sure that agency heads are qualified.
“It’s better because you’re essentially scrutinizing what in effect is a CEO of multimillion-dollar agencies,” Shope said. “I would expect a board of directors of a private business to do nothing short of a thorough check on somebody’s ability to do the job much like we did.”
Next session, the pressure on Hobbs and Senate Republicans will be stronger, because nominees can only serve for a year without being confirmed by the chamber.
If Hobbs’ nominees are rejected or simply not considered, she’ll have to find new ones. In the meantime, several agencies are functioning with interim directors who don’t know if they’ll get to keep their jobs.