Top elected Republicans in Arizona are refusing to approve the appointments of “interim executive directors” named by Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs.
State Treasurer Kimberly Yee has stated that this week she did not allow individuals tapped by the governor to sit in the State Investment Board meeting as heads of two state agencies. She reviews the $30 billion investment by the panel treasurer and actually works as a trustee for some of the funds.
This includes, as per law, directors from the Department of Administration and the Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions. The only catch is that there are no “directors,” at least not officially.
This is because, angered by the Senate’s failure to act on her nominations, Hobbs not only withdrew her nominations but also removed her from the position of interim director through a procedural maneuver.
Yee, a former state senator herself, argues that this is illegal and says that Hobbs should understand as both have served in the Senate simultaneously.
Governor’s press aide Christian Slater responded, “We hope Treasurer Yee will stop playing politics.” He argues that the law allows these appointees to work as named and that the treasurer should “appoint duly authorized board members and ensure that the state continues to function for Arizonans.”
However, Yee, who had bid for Governor in 2021 before dropping out of the GOP primary and deciding to run again for her office, says that the issue goes beyond the Investment Board members.
She asserts that if those confirmed by the Senate are not leading the agencies, “we have some bad actors sitting at the top making executive decisions who haven’t been elected in a long time.”
Though, this isn’t a new policy.
It happened with those Democrats who controlled the Senate in 1991 when they declined to confirm Republican Governor Fife Symington’s pick for head of the Department of Administration. They turned around and named that person as the deputy for the agency and left the top spot vacant.
But Senate President Warren Petersen says this is different because the Democratic majority didn’t threaten legal action. However, there hasn’t been a situation where a Republican from Gilbert has threatened legal action.
And there’s another twist.
The Arizona Constitution says that in the “absence of the governor” the next person in line automatically assumes the powers and duties of the office. Hobbs has been out of the state since Sunday and wasn’t returning until Thursday morning.
State Secretary Adrian Fontes left Wednesday night. And Attorney General Chris Mayes has also departed.
Truth be told, it has put Yee in charge.
However, in decades, no acting governor has actually attempted to stop or oppose the actions taken by an elected governor. And Yee said she won’t use that power to fill 13 vacancies or call the legislature into special session.
The controversy over the Investment Board is also immediate.
A five-member panel was set to meet earlier this week, with Yee and her two appointed members present. However, if any of them are absent from their monthly meetings, the board is left without a working majority. And that means any actions by the governor-appointed individuals are effectively blocked.
Yee’s move changes the legal landscape of the entire controversy.
The naming of “interim executive directors” puts Hobbs’ actions — a situation not explicitly present in the state’s laws — in a position where she would have to declare these moves unlawful. Though, in the interim, her appointments remain.
Now, however, the ball is in the court of the Senate to consider the 13 nominees of the governor.
In some cases, the director nomination committee recommended that their appointments not be confirmed, putting them in a sort of political and legal limbo where they can continue to serve as
“As ‘temporary directors’ with a tenure of up to one year.
“At that point, Hobbs would need to put forth a new nomination.”
In others, a panel chaired by Queen Creek Rep. Jake Hoffman has not held hearings for the governor’s choices months after they were submitted.
So, Hobbs rescinded the 13 pending nominations. In return, that means they are no longer interim directors.
Instead, she appointed an interim director for the Department of Administration, Ben Henderson, in lieu of a special meeting of the board. And for the Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions, Barbara Richards was named to serve as interim director — two positions that Yee said aren’t contentious.
However, the treasurer isn’t buying it.
She said if Hobbs had left Thorson as interim director, it would have been different. Yee said she would have been at least allowed to serve on the board for a year or sent a nominee, which Arizona law allows someone to serve as an interim director.
“Ditto for Richardson,” Yee said. And she questioned the validity of the governor’s actions to name Henderson interim director of all the agencies.