Hobbs asks judge to dismiss director nomination suit
Gov. Katie Hobbs wants a judge to throw out the suit that Senate President Warren Petersen brought against her for bypassing Senate confirmation of the people she picks to lead state agencies.
In her Jan. 24 filing requesting dismissal, Andy Gaona, Hobbs’ attorney, blamed the Senate for essentially giving the governor no other choice than to sidestep the chamber’s new Committee on Director Nominations, saying the panel was “designed to slow walk nominees.”
The committee turned a once simple process into one that mirrored the hours-long interrogations held at the federal level. Out of 13 nominations put forward by Hobbs, 10 were interviewed and only seven were ultimately recommended for confirmation by the full Senate. They were all dismissed on ideological grounds.
So, in September, Hobbs withdrew her director nominations and then reappointed them as executive deputy directors, giving them the same powers as directors.
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“The Senate’s bad-faith conduct impeded the Governor’s ability to fulfill her constitutional and statutory duties,” Gaona wrote. “This left her no choice but to pursue other lawful avenues to ensure that executive agencies can function despite this protracted political dispute.”
In December, Petersen filed a special action lawsuit against Hobbs, accusing her of violating state law and asking the Maricopa County Superior Court to restore the decades-long practice of requiring Senate approval for nominees.
“While the Governor has discretion to select a nominee of her choosing, her statutory duty to promptly make a nomination and transmit such nomination to the President of the Senate is mandatory and non-discretionary,” Thomas Basile, attorney representing Petersen, wrote in the brief.
While in past years, Senate confirmations occurred with little fanfare following brief interviews with relevant legislative committees, the process for approving agency heads was a point of particular contention throughout Hobbs’ first year as governor. Arizona law directs the governor to nominate candidates to lead state agencies, after which the Senate is tasked with confirming them.
But last year, Republicans formed the new Committee on Director Nominations, led by Sen. Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican who also heads the far-right Arizona Freedom Caucus.
Petersen says that Hobbs doesn’t have the power to skirt Senate confirmation just because she doesn’t like senators intensely scrutinizing her nominees, but Hobbs argues that she adhered to the law, and that the Senate left her with no alternative.
As an example, Gaona pointed to the committee hearing for Martín Quezada, a former Democratic state senator and Hobbs’ nominee to lead the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, a small state agency that licenses and regulates construction contractors.
“It’s the very definition of a non-political agency with a limited – yet critically-important – function,” Gaona wrote.
But during Quezada’s hearing, committee members asked him about his opinions on polarizing political issues like transgender athletes, white nationalism, racism and sexism in hiring, mass shootings, antisemitism, border security, the state’s school voucher program, critical race theory and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Of course, none of this had anything to do with Mr. Quezada’s fitness to head up ROC,” Gaona wrote.
The committee voted along party lines not to approve Quezeda’s nomination, and Hobbs then withdrew his nomination.
“A qualified, longtime public servant was the victim of a Senate committee concerned more with partisan talking points than the serious consideration of executive nominations,” Gaona wrote.
And then Hoffman declared that the Senate committee would no longer consider Hobbs’ nominees unless she rescinded an executive order that banned county attorneys from prosecuting abortion providers.
Hoffman also “contacted nominees to imply that their confirmation hinged on the rescission of long-standing agency policy over which he has no authority,” Gaona wrote.
“The problem, of course, is that this is not how a good-faith vetting process functions,” he added, noting that some of the nominees who won the committee’s approval still never received a confirmation vote by the full Senate. “The Senate’s bad-faith conduct impeded the governor’s ability to fulfill her constitutional and statutory duties.”
Petersen argued in his initial court filing that Hobbs was legally bound to nominate directors promptly, and for the Senate to approve them. But in Hobbs’ response, Gaona pointed out that Hobbs did nominate the directors within the required timeframe — she simply later rescinded those nominations and never replaced them.
Hobbs agreed to resume nominations if the Senate would return, in good faith, to the “regular order of confirming nominees.”
Petersen asked the court to find that Hobbs’ appointments are in violation of state law, declare that conditioning future nominations on changes to the Senate confirmation process is illegal and order that Hobbs resume director nominations.
Shortly after Petersen filed the suit, Hoffman, in a written statement, accused Hobbs of “forcing agencies to operate illegally,” and added that Hobbs’ refusal to work with Republicans would only hurt Arizonans.
“She’s made it abundantly clear to voters that Democrats care more about playing petulant political games and throwing temper tantrums than actually governing,” he said in the statement. “Republicans, on the other hand, are committed to creating a government that works for every Arizonan.”