Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs illegally appointed ‘de facto’ agency directors, judge rules

Jun 6, 2024, 11:56 AM | Updated: 11:57 am

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs walks in front of U.S. and state flags. Hobbs illegally appointed 13 “de...

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs illegally appointed 13 “de facto” agency directors, a judge ruled on June 5, 2024. (File Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

(File Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – An Arizona judge ruled Wednesday that Gov. Katie Hobbs illegally appointed “de facto” agency directors while sidestepping opposition to her nominees by state Senate Republicans.

Hobbs didn’t have the authority to install “deputy directors” to lead 13 state agencies after multiple picks were rejected by the Senate Committee on Director Nominations following often-contentious hearings, according to the ruling.

Senate President Warren Petersen created the vetting committee about a month after Arizona’s first Democratic governor since 2009 took office in early 2023. As a result, Hobbs’ director nominees couldn’t go to the full Senate for a confirmation vote without approval from the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Jake Hoffman.

Under state law, the governor’s nominees can’t serve as director for more than a year without Senate confirmation.

How did Gov. Hobbs bypass Senate confirmation for nominees?

In September 2023, a frustrated Hobbs said she was withdrawing her nominees from the 13 remaining director vacancies to “pursue other lawful avenues” for filling the leadership roles in the following departments, commissions and offices:

  • Administration
  • Economic Security
  • Environmental Quality
  • AHCCCS Administration
  • Child Safety
  • Gaming
  • Housing
  • Insurance and Financial Institutions
  • Veterans’ Services
  • State Land
  • State Lottery Commission
  • Residential Utility Consumer Office
  • Office of Tourism

Hobbs went on to name an interim director to each agency. The interim then appointed an executive deputy director and resigned, leaving the deputy in charge.

However, the GOP-led Senate filed a lawsuit in December 2023 challenging the maneuver.

Why did judge rule that Gov. Hobbs illegally appointed directors?

On Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Scott Blaney ruled in favor of the Senate, saying Hobbs “has improperly, unilaterally appointed ‘de facto’ directors for these 13 agencies, despite the actual job title she has assigned to them.”

Blaney also wrote that Hobbs’ “frustration with a co-equal branch of government – even if that frustration was justified – did not exempt her director nominees from Senate oversite.”

Blaney didn’t issue relief to the Senate in Wednesday’s ruling, instead giving the parties a chance to settle their dispute. The judge said the court will set an evidentiary hearing or oral argument for late July or early August.

“This will give these co-equal branches of government an opportunity to meet and confer in an attempt to reach a mutually agreeable resolution,” the ruling says. “If they are unsuccessful, the Court will hold a brief hearing to consider the evidence and arguments regarding mandamus and injunctive relief.”

How did Hobbs, Senate Republicans react to ruling

Hobbs’ office issued a statement vowing to appeal the decision. The statement took aim at Hoffman, who is under indictment in Arizona’s fake elector case.

“Arizonans want sanity, not the chaos of indicted fake elector Jake Hoffman’s sham committee that he abuses to force his radical political agenda on Arizonans,” the statement said. “Gov. Hobbs stands ready to work with anybody in the Senate who is serious about putting the political games aside and delivering for everyday Arizonans, and as she’s said from day one, she remains open to a fair and timely process for confirmation of nominees.”

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, used Wednesday’s ruling to accuse Hobbs and her party of abusing their power.

“This case is a prime example of Democrats weaponizing Arizona’s government for their own political gain and to implement their radical left agenda,” Petersen, the Senate president, said in a press release. “Unfortunately, every decision made by these fake directors on behalf of our state agencies will be under a microscope, opening the door for a myriad of lawsuits.”

For his part, Hoffman said he’s ready to resume confirmation hearings.

“I look forward to continuing our confirmation hearings in the near future now that much needed clarity on the law has been provided by the courts to Hobbs and her staff,” Hoffman said in a release. “If Katie wishes to continue her petulant insults against me and to play petty political games, so be it; but I’m going to continue faithfully fulfilling my duty to the people of this great state to ensure that we have a sane government that works for every Arizonan.”

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Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs illegally appointed ‘de facto’ agency directors, judge rules