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Hobbs says she will skip GOP-led Senate confirmations for Arizona agency directors

Accusing senators of “partisan obstructionism,” Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs announced Monday she won’t seek confirmation of any of her nominees to head state agencies who haven’t already been through the process.

But she is doing it in a way to ensure that those she has tapped continue to serve: She is naming each of them as “executive deputy directors” of their respective agencies, positions that do not require Senate confirmation.

In a letter to Senate President Warren Petersen, the governor accused Sen. Jake Hoffman, who chairs the Committee on Director Nominations, of being not just “disrespectful” to her choices but trying to “leverage the confirmation of qualified nominees for the implementation of his policy preferences within the executive branch.”

“He has contacted nominees to imply that their confirmation hinged on the rescission of long-standing agency policies over which he has no authority,” the governor told Petersen. “He has held up the confirmation of a nomination simply for identifying as pro-choice.”

Withdrawing the nominees from consideration, the governor said, will ensure that “state government can continue to function for Arizona.”

Press aide Christian Slater said the net effect is that each agency will function without a director.

That is not unusual, on a short-term basis, with deputy directors often filling in when someone quits or is fired.

But this would make the first time, on a wholesale basis, that 13 agencies will be functioning that way.

The move will get a legal fight.

“There is no getting around the process,” Petersen, a Gilbert Republican, told Capitol Media Services.

“We have a system of checks and balances,” he said. “This isn’t a dictatorship.”

Petersen said the rejections of several appointees was justified, saying it included “several people who were either incompetent or overly partisan.” He did not spell out which ones fell into either of those categories.

And the Senate president said that the governor’s maneuver is little more than a political charade.

“It doesn’t matter what she calls someone,” he said. “If they are the actual director they must be confirmed.”

Petersen said that anyone who is running the agency, regardless of title, has to be confirmed by the Senate.

There is a provision that allows director nominees to serve up to a year if they have not been confirmed. And Petersen said that, as far as he is concerned, if whoever is running the agency has not been through the process and been approved by the Senate, they lose their jobs.

But Petersen did not immediately spell out what action, if any, he can take to keep those that Hobbs names as executive deputy directors from serving, as there appears to be no authority for the Legislature to fire an employee of the executive department. And even if there were, any legislative action would be subject to veto by the governor.

Nor did he explain how he could force her to submit names of people to actually be the directors.

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.