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Black leaders say Katie Hobbs hasn't taken responsibility for discrimination case

A federal judge Tuesday denied a bid by the Senate to overturn a $2.75 million discrimination award against the Senate, leaving Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and state Democrats scrambling to blunt the effects of the verdict on her gubernatorial ambitions.

In a brief order, Judge Douglas Rayes rejected arguments by attorneys for the Senate that Talonya Adams presented no credible evidence that she ever complained to Hobbs and others in 2015 about disparate pay on the basis of race or sex. Hobbs was Senate minority leader at the time Adams, a Democratic staffer, was fired.

Rayes said there was sufficient evidence for a jury to accept Adams’ arguments about the complaints she made. And that, the judge said, precludes him from second-guessing the decision by jurors that she was not just the victim of discrimination — what the first jury concluded in 2019 — but that her firing was retaliation for complaining.

Hobbs, engaged in what is now a three-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor, now faces criticism from key members of Arizona’s African-American community, not just for what happened in 2015, but for what some see as her failure now to acknowledge any culpability.

That could deprive her of the votes she needs, not just to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary but to defeat whoever the Republicans nominate.

“The fact of the matter is, we don’t trust Katie Hobbs,” Cloves Campbell told Capitol Media Services on Tuesday.

The former lawmaker and the publisher of the Arizona Informant was one of the six African-American leaders who put out a statement following the second verdict. He said it’s now about what he sees as her failure to take responsibility.

“If she can do that kind of stuff while she’s in the Legislature, she can sit there and lie as secretary of state, what can we expect from her as governor?” he asked.

Sandra Kennedy, a former legislator and current member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, said she believes that Hobbs’ actions make her unacceptable.

“We want someone who is going to represent us, and not just us but people of color," she told Capitol Media Services. “And if she’s not going to stand up for people of color, or an African-American female who says, ‘Hey, I’m not in the type of salary that everybody else is getting,’ and then you fire them, that speaks in volume about character. And that’s just not the kind of person I think we’re going to need to lead them.”

Hobbs has refused to speak with reporters about the verdict. Instead, she had campaign publicist Jennah Rivera put out a statement denying that Adams was the victim of discrimination. Rivera said it was simply due to the fact that Republicans who control the chamber pay their staffers more than the Democrats.

Seeking to put some distance between Hobbs and the firing, Rivera also said that Adams was dismissed not by Hobbs but by Wendy Baldo, who was the Republican chief of staff.

But records from two separate trials, one in 2019 and one that concluded earlier this month, paint a different picture. Hobbs testified that the decision to terminate Adams was a “group decision” that also included Baldo and senior Democratic staffers.

Hobbs also said she had “lost trust” in Adams, at least in part because she had left to care for her son who had a medical emergency in Seattle. But there was evidence at trial that Adams had told her direct supervisor about the trip and he did not object.

With Hobbs not talking, that has left it to her political allies to put out statements echoing her own explanation that Adams was paid less than others was strictly a partisan thing because the Republicans who control the Senate pay their own staffers more.

“We all serve the people of Arizona and our staff deserve more equitable pay policies,” said Sen. Rebecca Rios (D-Phoenix), the current Senate minority leader.

And Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Laveen), Rios’ counterpart in the House, thanked Adams “for bringing out for all to see the pay inequities between Democratic and Republican legislative staff.”

A 2015 analysis report on legislative staff salaries published by Legislative Report, a division of Arizona Capitol Times, did find that Adams was paid less than every other Senate GOP staffer. But it also shows that four of the five Democratic staffers were also paid more than she was.

Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.