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Arizona secretary of state, attorney general spar over COVID-19 response

PHOENIX – Arizona’s top elections official on Wednesday accused the state’s top legal officer of “political grandstanding” while opposing her plan to restrict how candidates can file nominating petitions during the COVID-19 outbreak.

On Friday, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said her office would accept the filings, which are due by April 6, only by mail. After drawing criticism, on Monday night she announced the addition of a drop box option in the lobby of the Executive Tower.

On Tuesday, Republican state Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued a legal opinion, posting it to Twitter, that said the secretary of state couldn’t prohibit in-person filing under Arizona law. Senate President Karen Fann, also a Republican, had requested Brnovich’s opinion on the matter.

A day later, Hobbs ripped Brnovich for criticizing COVID-19 responses for coming up short in some cases but opposing her attempts to combat the outbreak and suggested the Republicans were engaging in “a coordinated partisan game.”

“This is a really dangerous time for partisan posturing, which is exactly what the attorney general is doing,” Hobbs said in a press release.

“It does seem disingenuous that at the same time he levied criticism about schools not being closed sooner, he is admonishing this office for taking appropriate, legal action to protect public health. It is unproductive for him, and his colleagues, to use the fear and uncertainty of this crisis to score political points.”

Hobbs referred specifically to two recent tweets by Brnovich, one from last week that said, “Let’s all do what we can to stay home and minimize the impact to our communities” and another from Tuesday saying he was “deeply concerned” about 15 Arizona State University students getting the virus.

Brnovich’s tweet about ASU was made after he’d tweeted his opinion about Hobbs’ plan.

Hobbs said she’d met with Brnovich and Fann after complaints were raised about her initial plan.

“If the opinion that the attorney general tweeted about was anything more than political grandstanding, then he should have provided that level of analysis when we discussed it with his office last week,” Hobbs said.

“To be clear, everyone who has come to my office in person, including President Fann, who requested this opinion, was assisted. This is a compelling indication that their recent actions were part of a coordinated partisan game. Regardless, my office continues to focus on fulfilling our duties while ensuring the safety of the public and our staff.”

Brnovich released a statement on Twitter responding to Hobbs’ accusations, saying, in part, “Abiding by the law is not a partisan matter.”

It’s not the first time Brnovich moved to curb action by a Democratic elections official during the coronavirus outbreak.

Days before the Democratic presidential preference election earlier this month, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes wanted to mail out early ballots to all voters expected to participate in an attempt reduce person-to-person contact at the polls.

Brnovich successfully blocked the move by filing a restraining order that argued Fontes didn’t have the authority to do so.

Fontes called off the plan despite having printed nearly 200,000 ballots that were never mailed out.

He acknowledged the bending of the law but felt that the health crisis created an emergency situation that demanded action to protect the public health.

When Brnovich tweeted about doing all “we can to stay home and minimize the impact to our communities” last week, Fontes replied with a sharp retort saying the attorney general “unnecessarily forced over 40k voters and poll workers to spend more time than necessary exposing themselves to possible infection.”

As of Wednesday morning, Arizona health officials had reported more than 400 positive tests for COVID-19, more than 250 in the Phoenix area.

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