Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs hasn’t yet received any bills from the Republican-controlled Legislature — but she already has tested the ink on her veto stamp.
The stamp, which is more than a dozen years old and emblazoned with “VETO” in red, was inherited from the state’s last Democratic governor. It’s a relic of the last time control of the state was split between Republicans and Democrats.
“The ink is fresh as anything,” the governor said Tuesday.
Hobbs has spent her first weeks in office as Arizona’s 24th governor signaling a willingness to use that stamp while also offering to work with Republicans who control the Legislature. But with few GOP lawmakers taking her up on the offer, Hobbs has also asserted herself as the ultimate decision maker — and one ready to use her power to accomplish Democratic policy priorities.
Asked this week for an assessment of her relationship with Republicans who hold the majority in the Legislature, Hobbs said voters have demanded they work together.
“I’m going to focus on the work that needs to get done and leave the petty antics to them,” Hobbs said in a wide-ranging interview. “It’s frustrating that that seems to be the tone that they want to set. I’m going to continue to have an open door and be willing to work with whoever wants to.”
Hobbs described the “petty antics” as lawmakers walking out during her State of the State speech, their “skewering” of budget director Sarah Brown during a committee meeting as she presented the governor’s first budget proposal, and taking grievances to social media versus dialing her office to talk.
Republican leaders, who have enjoyed the harmony of working with GOP governors for the past 13 years, found little to like in Hobbs’ initial budget plan, the hallmark of which was a proposal to curtail the state’s universal school voucher program. House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Glendale, said on social media that based on Hobbs’ “left-wing wish list of spending details disclosed so far, I’m confident to say that it will be dead on arrival.”
Republicans instead proposed a budget that would duplicate last year’s spending — approved with the signature of GOP Gov. Doug Ducey — without adding new priorities. That would thwart many of Hobbs’ proposals, like creating a child tax credit and boosting school facility funding.
Hobbs said her eight years in the Legislature always featured budget negotiations and she hoped there was “a willingness for that to happen” this year.
“I view the budget as a negotiation,” Hobbs said. “The DOA talk goes both ways.”
Historically significant veto stamp at the ready
Hobbs’ administration quickly departed from a Ducey practice not to comment on pending legislation, though Ducey broke his own rule at times for policies he promoted. Hobbs’ chief of staff, Allie Bones, and a spokesperson were quick to confirm last week that a bill that would prevent teachers from using transgender students’ preferred pronouns would never get the governor’s signature.
That could trigger the use of former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s veto stamp, which today occupies a small but powerful place on Hobbs’ desk.
The stamp was a gift from Mike Haener, a former Napolitano staffer who led Hobbs’ transitions into the Secretary of State’s Office in 2018, and into the Governor’s Office after her victory last year.
State Sen. John Kavanagh, the Fountain Hills Republican who sponsored the bill limiting pronoun use, is one of the only lawmakers who served in the Legislature during Napolitano’s leadership. Napolitano, who left office in 2009, was known for repeatedly using her veto power, and Kavanagh noted that was during a time of less partisan division than today.
“This is a whole new age,” he said. “The moderates are pretty much gone from the Democrat and Republican sides of the aisle. Everybody is very strongly attached to their philosophical beliefs, and that makes it more difficult to arrive at a mid-ground consensus.”
He said he viewed Hobbs’ public statements, such as calls for reversal of the state’s universal private school voucher program, as an effort to appease her Democratic base. If she follows through, he said, “I will not be booking summer vacations,” a nod to the potential of pushing past a July 1 deadline to approve a state budget.
‘I’m the governor’
In Hobbs’ first three weeks, she issued six executive orders that for the most part create commissions or coalitions to address issues like prison conditions, water resources, homelessness and housing. Ducey, in the first month of his first term in 2015, issued two executive orders, according to records on file in the state’s online archive.
Hobbs’ first order, which called for state agencies to adopt more broad anti-discrimination policies, prompted threats of a lawsuit from members of the Freedom Caucus, the Legislature’s most conservative faction. Her sixth, announced Wednesday, created a commission tasked with oversight of Arizona’s troubled Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.
Asked about concerns from some lawmakers she was governing via executive order, Hobbs on Wednesday committed to using the authority given to her office.
“I’m the governor,” Hobbs said, noting executive orders were within the scope of her power and she was “going to use it, especially when I have continued to extend olive branches and have not gotten a lot back from them in that same regard.”
“There are a lot of issues we need to work on. I’ve made it clear. I’m going to use the office to work on the issues whether or not they want to come along with me or not.”
GOP proposals to cut taxes raise concerns
Hobbs didn’t entirely close the door on two proposals pushed by Republican lawmakers to eliminate rental and grocery taxes, but she outlined concerns, questioning how much eliminating the rental tax would help families and how cities and towns would make up the lost revenue.
“In many cases, if we took rental tax off the table, it would defund public safety in many communities, and so we have to address that,” Hobbs said. “The cities don’t have a way to backfill that funding. And in the scheme of rent and how unaffordable it is right now, I don’t know that the rental tax is going to make it any more affordable for someone who has been priced out of housing.”
Republican Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, has championed the proposed tax cuts as a way to alleviate high costs for Arizonans who are living paycheck to paycheck. Petersen said in a statement that cities would collect revenues from sales tax as families spent money saved on rent on other needs.
“Furthermore, with government already receiving record revenues, we are able to increase state-shared funding in order to support our cities and towns, despite Democrats pushing a sensationalized narrative that we will be ‘defunding the police,'” Petersen said. “We will in fact do the exact opposite, while providing relief to taxpayers in the midst of a recession.”
Getting Cabinet in place requires OK from GOP
Assuming the physical office of the governor of Arizona is a work in progress for Hobbs, who has a line of artwork created by students for her inauguration sitting on a windowsill overlooking the state Capitol complex.
Also unfinished is the bureaucratic work of getting her Cabinet nominees, the allies who will lead state agencies, approved by the Senate.
Hobbs acknowledged Tuesday that partisan division could stand in the way for some nominees, though she didn’t say whom. Petersen said as much in a social media post, writing that the chamber had received no nominations and “it would be unfortunate if we have to sue the governor to comply with the law.”
Hobbs has publicly named over two dozen members of her Cabinet, with some leaders yet to come. Those nominations will go through a committee hearing and then require a majority vote of the Senate, though the appointees can serve for a year before the Senate vote must occur.
“I’m confident in the agency directors that we’ve chosen,” she said. “I’ve said this many times, we are not always going to agree, but these are folks who are public servants who have the best interests of Arizonans at heart and are going to do the work that they’re statutorily required to do.”
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Hobbs said the Senate would receive the first batch of nominations this week, allowing the confirmation process to begin.
“I think there are some directors that might face more of an uphill battle than others,” Hobbs said, “and we’re talking about how we can deal with that.”
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.