Here’s why a GOP lawmaker thinks state should stop funding Arizona PBS

Oct 18, 2022, 3:00 PM
Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh speaks to an attendee during the America the Great tour panel disc...
Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh speaks to an attendee during the America the Great tour panel discussion hosted by Heritage Action for America at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch on Oct. 14, 2022. (Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – A Republican lawmaker wants to cut off state funding for Arizona PBS because the station offered Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs an interview after she refused to debate GOP nominee Kari Lake.

Rep. John Kavanagh accused the public television station, which is part of the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, of putting “their thumb on the scale of an election” in Hobbs’ favor.

“Unconscionable,” Kavanagh told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show on Tuesday. “And I think the only way that we take care of this is to separate this TV station from the government.

“Government has no business running TV stations. We’re not China. We’re not Venezuela. We’re not Russia. Government doesn’t control the flow of information.”

The Citizens Clean Election Commission (CCEC) sponsors debates for all of Arizona’s contested statewide and legislative races as part of its voter education responsibilities. Arizona PBS has been CCEC’s debate broadcast partner.

Hobbs turned down the CCEC invitation to debate Lake, and the board rejected the Democrat’s request to replace the one-on-one format with a forum where each candidate gets interviewed separately for 30 minutes.

“PBS had a long-term agreement with Clean Elections to run the debates, and the rules were always very clear: If the candidate refuses to debate then that candidate does not get airtime and the candidate who wanted to gets a half-hour question-and-answer situation,” Kavanagh said. “That’s how it’s always been.”

The Q&A with Lake was scheduled to air on Arizona PBS last Wednesday, but the commission postponed it that day after the learning of the station’s plan to conduct and air an interview with Hobbs independently of the CCEC partnership.

CCEC later rescheduled the Lake interview for 5 p.m. this Sunday on AZTV7.

Gina Roberts, CCEC voter education director, told KTAR News on Tuesday morning that Arizona PBS didn’t tell the commission about the Hobbs interview plan before it became public.

“It was the lack of communication, the timing of it and the fact that they broke protocol into how we previously conducted our events together, that was really what the commission took issue with,” she said. “It’s not the fact that Arizona PBS as a journalistic entity is speaking with candidates.”

Kavanagh said Arizona PBS’ decision was “particularly egregious” because Lake has been critical of ASU and would be in a position of power over the school if she becomes governor.

A day after the initial Lake interview was postponed, the northeast Valley Republican announced his intention to introduce legislation to cut ties between the state and the station.

“It was my hope that when I announced my intention to sever these ties and aid that the university would come around and say, ‘Yeah, we really shouldn’t be doing this,’ and back away and restore their old relationship,” he said.

“But they’re sticking to their guns.”

Arizona PBS has declined to comment on the situation beyond the following statement, issued last week, from Cronkite School Dean Battinto L. Batts Jr. on behalf of the station:

“Arizona PBS has offered both Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs a 30-minute interview as candidates for governor, as part of our Horizon news program. It is our responsibility as a news agency to provide the public with access to the candidates who are running for office so they can learn more and make informed decisions.”

Kavanagh running for a state Senate seat this year and is favored to win in the newly drawn District 3, which is heavily Republican. He thinks his proposal will pass if his party maintains control of the Legislature and Lake wins the governor’s race.

“And by the way, I’m not killing PBS, right. Total state aid to their $15 million budget is only $400,000. … Let them stand alone as a private corporation and then they can do whatever they can legally do,” he said.

“But the government shouldn’t control them and use it for the advantage of a particular government entity like ASU.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Taylor Kinnerup contributed to this report.

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Here’s why a GOP lawmaker thinks state should stop funding Arizona PBS