Katie Hobbs may not speak all that loudly, but she has a lot to say
Stop me if you’ve heard this, but Gov. Katie Hobbs is not exactly known for her oratorical skills.
She’s no MLK, Jr., or Barack Obama, or, thankfully, Kari Lake, who spent decades behind a mic at the local Fox affiliate honing her speaking chops before taking Hobbs on as the GOP nominee in November.
But the fact that Hobbs isn’t great at a podium doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a lot that’s meaningful to say. Stagecraft has its place, but I’d rather know what our new governor has in store for us in the next four years than dwell on whether she’s wowing us rhetorically.
So far, I’m liking most of what I’ve heard.
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During her State of the State address, Hobbs spent about half of her time pledging to defend and improve public education by boosting funding and fighting for the state’s teachers and other critical school personnel, especially school counselors.
That was refreshing, after an eight-year mix of assault and neglect directed at our public schools by former Gov. Doug Ducey, whose tenure did nothing to move Arizona up the national education rankings.
For someone so pro-business, Ducey didn’t seem to give a damn about whether the companies moving here had a well educated workforce.
To make matters worse, Ducey left our public schools facing a fiscal cliff by reneging on his promise to call a special session to address an outdated and unnecessary state spending cap that could force massive budget cuts at school districts statewide in March. But if you are wealthy and want to send your kids to private school on a taxpayer-funded voucher, Ducey was your man.
Arizona’s public schools are also going to need a strong champion in the governor’s office, with the return of Tom Horne as superintendent of public instruction, a job he held from 2003 to 2011. Horne wasn’t on Trump’s election-denier bandwagon, but he’s always proved ready made to pander to the ultra-right MAGA types on a range of issues.
Horne, for instance, is for teachers packing handguns in class and he loves to rail against the latest GOP bogeymen, critical race theory, or CRT — which isn’t actually taught in our public schools, though that does stop racists like Horne from falsely claiming CRT is about teaching brown people to hate white people because the first few hundred years of American history included slavery, segregation and all sorts of other systemically discriminatory practices.
First, more guns in America’s schools is not the answer to too many Americans wielding too many guns in our society. So many guns, in fact, that a six-year-old in Virginia recently took a loaded weapon to school and shot his teacher.
As for the bogus claim that so-called woke educators are teaching brown people to hate white people (or at least make them feel really guilty) for the historical sins of our nation’s past, that’s never been the point of teaching students about our country’s record of racial and social injustice. The point is to teach the next generation citizens not to do it again, because it’s immoral, unfair, and repugnant — and if we see it happening now, we should call it out and make it stop.
Don’t forget that Horne is the same man who, along with his successor as schools superintendent, shut down the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, which took years to get reinstated by the courts. Killing that program crushed the dreams of potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of Latino children who finally had an opportunity to learn not that white people are inherently bad, but that brown people are at least as good as white people.
Stagecraft has its place, but I’d rather know what our new governor has in store for us in the next four years than dwell on whether she’s wowing us rhetorically.
Hobbs also spoke forcefully in her address about a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body, including whether to have an abortion. She spoke so forcefully on the subject, in fact, that a couple of Republican legislators walked out of the chamber during her address.
Maybe they were offended that Hobbs was stating the obvious: that large majorities of voters here and nationwide believe abortion should be legal.
Hobbs has pledged to back a statewide voter referendum to restore abortion rights in Arizona and override the 15-week ban on the medical procedure that Ducey signed into law last year. Said another way, Hobbs wants to restore the rights of women to be treated as full citizens of Arizona.
Men, in case you haven’t noticed, don’t have to deal with even remotely similar legal restrictions on what they can do with their bodies. There’s no law, for instance, against a man getting a vasectomy to keep from reproducing. Vasectomies are perfectly legal, while some in the GOP, mostly men, want to outlaw birth control pills and other forms of contraception.
Other stuff Hobbs addressed:
- Our rapidly depleting water supply. Climate change and drought are threatening Arizona’s quality of life, and life itself, but Hobbs understands that there’s no silver bullet — including Ducey’s billion-dollar desalination plan — and everyone involved has to be part of finding a solution. You see, without water we’ve got nothing. Worried? We should be.
- The humanitarian crisis at the border. Yes, Hobbs, Congress and the White House must do more to reform federal immigration law, but the hackneyed approach of militarizing the border and scapegoating and dehumanizing migrants is not the answer. The great majority of those flocking to our shores are fleeing violence, poverty and injustice. They’re not coming to tear down America. The solution is more immigration, not less, if for no other reason than our country’s pool of workers, from blue collar to high tech, is shrinking. We need more workers, and if we’re not going to have more babies, we need more immigrants.
Hobbs says she’s for immigration reform, but rather than simply join the chorus that President Biden and Congress are falling down on the job, Arizona’s new governor should take up the immigration reform mantle and lead the charge to make it happen.
- On housing, Hobbs said she plans to address the state’s affordable housing crisis. The state saw a 23% jump in homelessness, among the worst in the nation, according to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Meanwhile, she also wants to work with big business to keep the economy humming. But it’s not enough to invite major employers to flock to Arizona, if the folks here who don’t have the skills to take advantage of these new higher paying job opportunities can’t afford to keep a roof over their heads.
One thing I only heard scant mention of during Hobbs’ State of the State address involves the role that Arizona’s burgeoning communities of color are playing in shaping the state’s future, economically, culturally and politically.
Phoenix today has more people of color than whites, and the state is headed in that same direction. Already, the state’s public schools statewide are majority-minority. And as critical as communities of color are to the success of our current and future economy, they’re also the reason the state is swinging politically bluer by the day.
While Hobbs rightly took time in her speech to declare that Arizona’s tribal nations “will be heard in my administration,” the governor sidestepped any substantive mention of what she vaguely referred to as “Arizona’s diverse, vibrant, and strong communities.”
I found it striking that she felt comfortable enough to spotlight Arizona’s first citizens — again, that’s a good thing — but not confident enough to pay specific tribute to its newest and increasingly influential generation of voters.
I’m sure those same Republicans who walked out on Hobbs because she mentioned abortion would have groaned, but what would have been so wrong with her saying, “To Arizona’s increasingly diverse communities — I’m talking about our white, Latino, Black, Asian, and Native American populations. I’m talking about the LGBTQ-plus community. I’m talking about our immigrant brothers and sisters who’ve come from around the world. And I’m talking about our steady stream of transplants over the decades and centuries who’ve come here from across the U.S. I thank you all for calling Arizona home. Let’s go forward together.”
But apparently this administration, while I don’t think it will be openly hostile to people of color, still hasn’t found its footing when it comes to deciding how it plans to walk beside Arizona’s communities of color.
One measure will be whether Hobbs keeps her campaign promise to ensure there’s diverse representation in her administration, especially at the hiring and decision-making level.
Hobbs has fought valiantly to defend our democracy against the likes of Trump and Lake since 2020. For that, she deserves all the credit in the world.
As governor, she now needs to fight just as passionately to grow our definition of democracy by fighting to defend the primary targets of MAGA-authoritarianism: the state’s historically disenfranchised communities, including Arizona’s communities of color.
Good luck, Gov. Hobbs. I know you have lots more to say. I’ll be listening.