Arizona Gov. Hobbs pulls Child Safety nominee in 2nd cabinet setback

Feb 23, 2023, 9:45 AM | Updated: Mar 6, 2023, 2:38 pm

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, left, withdrew Michael Stewart as her nomination for Arizona Department o...

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, left, withdrew Michael Stewart as her nomination for Arizona Department of Child Safety director. (Arizona Governor's Office Photos)

(Arizona Governor's Office Photos)

PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs withdrew a second cabinet nominee after what Republicans called “troubling events” came to light involving her pick to lead the Department of Child Safety.

“While I thank Matthew Stewart for his work with the agency over the last month and a half, he will not be moving forward in the cabinet appointment process,” Hobbs said in a press release Thursday morning.

“Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the governor, and this is a decision that was made for the best interests of all parties involved.”

Former Economic Security Director Michael Wisehart will lead the Department of Child Safety (DCS) on an interim basis, Hobbs said.

Arizona Senate Republicans broke the news of Stewart’s departure on Wednesday night, calling it a “forced resignation.”

Sen. Jake Hoffman, chairman of the Committee on Director Nominations, issued a statement saying “some very troubling events have come to light” over the first few weeks of Stewart’s appointed tenure.

“Those issues include four high-level employees of DCS separating from the agency. Mr. Stewart has also made some questionable moves on consulting contracts,” Hoffman said.

“Most recently, Mr. Stewart fired non-appointed, openly gay employees of DCS, who have now filed complaints against him, which prompted the forced resignation.”

Hobbs told reporters Thursday morning the situation with Stewart “has nothing to do with the Senate committee,” but she refused to reveal details about why he was removed.

Hobbs nominated Stewart on Dec. 27, a week before she took office, in her first round of cabinet announcements.

“Stewart worked his way up in the department and was entrusted with statewide management responsibilities for years,” the announcement said.

Stewart had started in the role of DCS director pending Senate approval.

According to Hoffman, Stewart was reprimanded in 2020 for “insubordination and unauthorized absence” while serving as a DCS training operations supervisor and “resigned from his position immediately before an intended suspension could be issued to him.”

Hobbs now has been forced back to the drawing board for two cabinet positions in the early days of her term.

Last week, the Democrat withdrew her pick for Department of Health Services director after Hoffman’s committee voted against recommending Dr. Theresa Cullen to the full Senate.

Republicans on the panel took aim at Cullen over her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as director of the Pima County Health Department and came away unimpressed with her answers during a Feb. 9 hearing.

Senate President Warren Petersen formed the Committee on Director Nominations earlier this month.

The panel is charged with vetting nominees and making recommendations to the full Senate. It can’t officially end a nomination, but its decisions signal which way the Republican-controlled full Senate is likely to vote.

Hoffman used the situation with Stewart to criticize Hobbs for failing to adequately look into her nominees’ backgrounds.

“The Senate’s confirmation hearings exist to ensure director nominees are qualified for the job, and that they will faithfully execute the laws of the state of Arizona,” he said.

“Sadly, it seems clear that Hobbs is not conducting her own vetting process, so my colleagues and I will continue to serve as the necessary and constitutional check and balance on the executive branch that the citizens of our great state need and deserve.”

Hobbs, meanwhile, accused Hoffman’s committee of engaging in “political theater.”

“My nominees were selected by my bipartisan transition committee that was focused on how we make the best government possible,” she told reporters.

“What these folks are doing in the Senate is serving to potentially grind government to a halt.”

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Arizona Gov. Hobbs pulls Child Safety nominee in 2nd cabinet setback