PHOENIX — The state commission that sets up candidate debates on Thursday rejected Democrat Katie Hobbs' request to change a planned debate with Republican governor candidate Kari Lake into separate interviews with a moderator.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission instead gave its staff seven days to try to persuade Hobbs, currently secretary of state, to participate in the planned Oct. 12 debate by offering minor changes to the format.
The commission vote came a day after Hobbs and Lake appeared at an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry event where each was questioned separately by Chamber president Danny Seiden.
Hobbs' campaign manager addressed the commission before its decision, pointing to Lake's performance in the raucous June 29 Republican primary debate, which she devolved into the chaos that she said made Arizona the subject of national ridicule.
“I think it’s pretty clear that she only wants to create another spectacle, like we saw in the GOP primary debate,” campaign manager Nicole DeMont said. “But on top of that, I would just add, you can’t debate a conspiracy theorist and at the last debate, she brought the conversation back to the 2020 election no less than a dozen times.”
DeMont had pointed to that debate as a primary reason for not agreeing to the upcoming debate in a letter to the commission last week.
Lake attorney Timothy La Sota urged the four participating commission members to reject the format change. Commissioner Amy Chan, who works as Hobb's lawyer at the secretary of state's office, recused herself.
The debate is set to be moderated by Ted Simons, a veteran interviewer who has overseen countless Clean Elections debates since joining Arizona PBS as host of the public affairs show Arizona Horizon in 2007.
“This is not only an insult to the voters of Arizona, that they can’t look at these candidates and make a judgment for themselves, it’s an insult to this commission,” La Sota said. “And it’s an insult to Mr. Simons, and it’s a cop-out.”
La Sota said allowing the change would damage the commission's credibility and set a precedent allowing any candidate to bow out and still get air time. The commission normally allows candidates whose opponents decline debates to appear with Simons for a Q&A format session.
Commissioners flatly rejected the Hobbs proposal. Mark Kimble suggested that a delay would be pointless, saying “both sides have made their positions very clear.” On the other hand, Commission Chairman Damien Meyer said voters deserve to see the candidates face off.
At Wednesday's Chamber event, Hobbs vowed that she would not raise taxes and would continue business-friendly policies Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has championed. She also said she would push for more investment in the state's water supply, which is at risk because of climate change and long-term drought that has forced cuts to its Colorado River Supply. Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature added $1 billion to boost supplies this year, but Hobbs said that is not enough.
“We need partnership with the other basin states so that they’re pulling their weight and doing more to conserve the Colorado River,” she said. “We need partnership with tribes and with other water stakeholders to bring all the solutions to the table.”
Hobbs also took some swipes at Lake, without mentioning her by name, for the national headlines that the Republican primary debate brought.
“I think it’s important to have someone who is serious about governing and not someone who’s going to continue to end up as the butt of late-night comedy television jokes,” Hobbs said. “That’s not going to be effective.”
Lake also praised Ducey's water plan and his success in drawing business to the state during his eight years in office.
“Gov. Ducey's done some great things — there's no reason to change that up,” Lake said.
Lake previously criticized Ducey during the primary for his response to border security, which the governor has made a priority. Ducey told the Arizona Republic in May that she was “making things up.” Lake has promised to make border security her first act if she is elected.
“You know that my main issue has been to secure that border and on Day One, in the first hour after I take my hand off the Bible with oath of office we’re gonna issue a declaration of invasion,” Lake said. "And we’re going to start securing the border, take back control from the cartels, and stop the fentanyl from pouring in.”
Ducey backed Republican Karrin Taylor Robson in the primary election that Lake won. Lake said she had met with Ducey after her primary win and that they had “a nice meeting,” without providing other details.
For her part, Lake also took some swipes at Hobbs for her rejection of the debate, which she has said shows she is “a coward.”
All other statewide candidates have agreed to participate in the televised Clean Elections debates, including Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who will debate Republican Blake Masters on Oct. 6.
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