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Hobbs wants to flip the AZ House and Senate blue. How she plans to make that happen

Woman in glasses at podium
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs on Thursday, April 25, 2024.

Races at the top of November’s ballot are generating a lot of attention, but Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs says she’s focusing much of her energy a little further down, on races for the state Legislature.

She’s made no secret of the fact that she’d like to flip one or both of the chambers; Republicans currently have one seat majorities in both the state House and Senate.

Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services has spoken to Hobbs about this and shares more.

Full conversation

MARK BRODIE: Howie, how bullish is the governor on that prospect right now?

HOWIE FISCHER: Well, what it comes down to is dollars and cents and she's got them. And that's the point. Look, I don't doubt that prior democratic governors, whether Bruce Babbitt or Janet Napolitano, wanted to flip the Legislature blue. What this governor has is a little bit of a war chest even though she's not up for reelection until 2026, Her financial people tell me she's already got over a million dollars collected in her 2026 campaign account.

Now, you may also remember that there was a whole kerfuffle over money collected for an inaugural that only cost less than $300,000 and they collected over $1.5 million. That's also been set aside. You can buy a lot of TV and radio time and newspaper ads with that.

And so what she's looking at doing is using some of that money to help out some Democratic candidates, particularly in these marginal districts where it could go either way, you know, whether there are sufficient number of Republicans and Democrats and the registration is close enough that perhaps was a little bit of cash. She can get out the vote, get people to go to the polls, vote against certain Republicans and and make a difference, like I say, money really talks.

BRODIE: Well, has she said how much she is looking to or maybe willing to spend in this endeavor?

FISCHER: Not really. I think that's still being worked out. I think a lot of it's gonna depend on what shows up, for example, next week and how much he actually has put aside. That's when the first set of campaign finance reports are due. I think it's gonna come down to wanting to use the money wisely.

Look, it makes no sense for example, to put a lot of money into a legislative district out in Sun City. Say, because there's a Democrat out there and say, oh, well, we're gonna flip the district, you know, why do that? But then we see the same thing on the presidential level. We know that both candidates have decided they're gonna spend their money on certain states. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, where they might have a reasonable chance.

The other piece of it is gonna be how much can you buy and how much ad space is out there. All you need to do is turn on your television now and see that we haven't even reached the primary and the ad airwaves are saturated with political commercials. Now there's just so much space to go around. You know, unlike a newspaper, you can add six or seven pages. I haven't figured out unless you can bend the laws of time and space to add another two hours to a 24 hour day to put in new political ads.

BRODIE: Well, so has she targeted specific districts? I mean, there's a handful that are considered competitive swing districts. Has she decided which one she is looking to potentially get involved in again?

FISCHER: I think she's keeping it close to her vest. But she's mentioned, you know, some of the districts, for example, you have some districts in Mesa that have elected. So at least one Democrat and one Republican in the House. Well, why not two Democrats? You have some central Phoenix districts.

You know, people like Judy Schweibert who got elected in what might be considered a moderately Republican district or maybe they could elect a second Democrat, depending on what they want to do. Of course, a lot of what they're looking to do is what they call single-shotting. In other words, if you have a House vote, you say vote for two people. Well, if there's two Republicans and one Democrat on the dish, on the ballot, you may say, well, I'll give one on one and that helps.

And that, that's a little separate from the money issue, but it comes down to strategizing of how to do this. Now, remember, it isn't gonna take much to change the Legislature. There are 31 Republicans and 29 Democrats in the House and 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the Senate. You add one Democrat to either one and you've got split government, something we haven't had since the 1990s, in the Senate have never had in the House since, you know, ‘64, which is the last time the Democrats were in control there.

If you add two, now you, you're really talking because you can actually make a big difference. Not only do you have a Democrat House, maybe a Democrat Senate, but a Democrat governor who can go ahead and say sure, I'll sign these things and I won't do another 143 vetoes like I did my first year in office because I don't need to because you won't be sending me that sort of stuff.

BRODIE: So, Howie, let's talk about something else going on related to the election that is the border security measure that legislative Republicans referred to the ballot. There was a hearing on Monday over a challenge to that based on the state's single subject rule. How did that go? What were some of the arguments?

FISCHER: This is what this comes down to is the concept of logrolling. In other words, what the Supreme Court has said. Generally speaking, you shouldn't have to accept something you don't want to get something you do want. That's unrelated. The argument by the challenges is look, perhaps you'd like something to tighten up the laws on the sale of fentanyl that causes a death. Should that be related to securing the border, should that be related to public benefits? And the argument is that they're unrelated and therefore you can't have them on a single ballot.

Obviously, Kory Langhofer, who represents the Republican legislative leaders, said, well, it's all related to the issue of an insecure border and that we know a lot of the fentanyl comes across the border. And so we can make an assumption that it is related even though the people could be arrested for fentanyl sales who are actually U.S. citizens, which would have nothing to do with border crossers.

I think the judge is a little concerned particularly about the fentanyl part. And in fact, at one point, question, one of the attorneys saying, so if the fentanyl part wasn't in here, would you be OK with the measure? And Andrew Gaona, who represents PODER and a few immigrant groups, said sure.

Now here's the tricky part, the law does not allow the judge to simply excise the offending material. It's an all or nothing proposal. So if the judge decides one or more of these proposals violates a single subject rule, he has to bounce the whole thing from the ballot. Now, of course, remembering whoever loses is going to go ahead and eventually takes us to the State Supreme Court.

And they really need an answer from the Supreme Court by mid-August because now you're starting to print up general election ballots and they, they need to know what will be on the ballot.

BRODIE: So has this judge said when they plan to issue a ruling?

FISCHER: I think Judge Minder would like to issue a ruling by the end of the week again, giving the Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court sufficient time to say, OK, am I right or am I wrong? But he wants to also make sure that his wording is justified. It's not just I think this way but how he got to the ruling and then the appellate courts can decide, you know, does that logic make sense? Hard to know what the Supreme Court will do.

You know, you know, there were a lot of people who thought that the, the abortion measure that the Supreme court upheld in 1864 law would never have happened. You have a court that's become like the U.S. Supreme Court more conservative this having to do with Doug Ducey appointments. What would they do with it? Hard to say.

BRODIE: Well, it seems like at some point we're going to find out.

FISCHER: So that is.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text is edited for length and clarity, and may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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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.