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Gov. Katie Hobbs taps former lawmaker David Lujan to head the Department of Child Safety

Gov. Katie Hobbs has tapped a former Democratic lawmaker who has advocated for higher taxes and against Republican-proposed tax cuts to head the Department of Child Safety.

But David Lujan told Capitol Media Services on Monday that he hopes that doesn’t become an issue when he is screened by a special Senate panel for the job.

Hobbs chose Lujan, who is executive director of the Children’s Action Alliance, after she withdrew the nomination last month of Matthew Stewart to be DCS director. That occurred even before he went before the Senate Committee on Director Nominations.

The governor said it was “a decision that was made for the bests interests of all parties involved.” But Sen. Jake Hoffman (R-Queen Creek), who chairs that panel, said that Stewart, who had been serving as director since initially being named, said there were “troubling events” that suggested that Hobbs wasn’t properly vetting her nominees.

Whether her new pick has better luck remains to be seen.

“We’re concerned with making sure that we have qualified candidates that are thoroughly, accurately and honestly vetted for these positions,” Hoffman said Monday.

And he called DCS “one of the most important agencies that we have.”

“It takes care of vulnerable children in our state,” Hoffman said. “So we’re going to be looking at qualifications that are relevant to doing that job.”

In naming Lujan, Hobbs cited his experience as president and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance, describing it as “a nonpartisan voice for children at the state Capitol.” She also mentioned his time as a state senator and representative and that he was an attorney for a nonprofit organization that provided legal services for abused and neglected children and was the chief administrator of the Arizona State University Preparatory Academy, a public charter school.

What is not in the governor’s press release is Lujan’s role as executive director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress, a separate arm of Children’s Action Alliance.

That organization was at the forefront of a 2020 initiative to impose a 3.5% surcharge on income taxes owed by individuals making more than $250,000 a year. Voters approved the measure, only to have the levy and the $800 million a year it would have raised declared uncollectable after a court challenge by Republican lawmakers.

And Lujan has stayed active in the tax arena. Just last month he opposed a GOP-backed measure to cut the corporate income tax rate nearly in half that legislative budget analysts said eventually could cut state revenues by nearly $670 million a year.

Lujan said he hopes his role in opposing Republican efforts to cut taxes does not affect his nomination.

“Protecting children should be a nonpartisan issue,” he said.

Hoffman, at least for the time being, appears to agree that the screening process should focus on the nominee and not his political background.

“We need to make sure that we have folks who understand the job, that can do the job, that can collaborate and communicate not only inside the agency but also outside providers,” he said, noting that DCS has contracts with many private entities who provide direct services to children, including group homes.

“We have lots of vulnerable children in this state,” Hoffman continued. “We need to make sure they get taken care of.”

Prior to this year, gubernatorial nominees were screened by existing Senate panels who have expertise in that area. So a pick for the health chief would go to the Health Committee; the Public Safety Committee would review someone named to head the Department of Public Safety.

All that changed this year when Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) formed the nominations panel and tapped Hoffman to chair the committee, with three Republicans and two Democrats. Hobbs has made it clear she is not happy with the process.

Her frustration came out after the committee voted against her pick of Pima County Health Director Theresa Cullen to head the Department of Health Services. The governor withdrew Cullen’s nomination, though the full Senate went ahead anyway and voted to reject her.

“The committee has made it very clear that they’re not interested in seriously vetting my nominations,” the governor said last week of Hoffman’s panel.

“They’re interested in carrying out the personal vendetta against me and using my name as proxy to do that,” she said, accusing Hoffman of “creating a stage for his political theater.”

Hoffman on Monday said he would not respond to the governor’s statements.

“I’m just not going to get into the weeds and name-call and whatnot like Katie Hobbs has done,” he said. “We’re focused on doing the work of the people and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

No date has been set for a hearing on Lujan as Hoffman said he has not yet seen the required paperwork from the governor.

For more on the kind of work the new director of the Department of Child Safety will be focusing on, The Show spoke to Luis De La Cruz, president and CEO of Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation.

More stories from KJZZ

Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.