Abortion special session would be a mistake
Hard to think of a worst way for Hobbs to gauge whether there is space for bipartisan deal-making with a GOP-controlled legislature.
After the election, Katie Hobbs mostly said the right things about representing all the people and working with the Republican-controlled legislature. However, if her first act after being inaugurated is to call a special session on abortion, as she has indicated, she will have made a serious misstep – one that might reverberate throughout her term.
If Hobbs wants to govern, as opposed to just being a Democratic sentinel trying to set up the next election, she has a very rough haul ahead of her.
Janet Napolitano was highly successful as a Democratic governor dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature.
For most of her tenure, state revenues were flowing in. She had a knowledgeable and politically skilled interlocutor in Senate President Ken Bennett. Between them, they reached agreement, and found the votes, to enact big priorities for both sides.
Napolitano got state-funded all-day kindergarten, since repealed. And huge increases in education funding, both K-12 and the universities. Bennett and legislative Republicans got tax cuts and expanded school choice.
Hobbs’ opportunity for a similarly constructive and productive relationship with a Republican legislature is more narrow.
While state revenues have been gushing, whether inflation can be tamed without a recession leaves a continuation in doubt.
Bennett is returning to the legislature as a state senator, but in a diminished role and as a diminished figure.
House Speaker Ben Toma appears to have the policy and political chops to be a constructive and productive partner for Hobbs in bipartisan governance. But his range of action will be considerably more constricted than was Bennett’s.
During Bennett’s stint as Senate president, the Republicans had a few votes to spare in his body and several in the House. The legislative Republicans were a generally conservative bunch, but a critical mass of them were pragmatically so.
After this election, Republicans have nary a vote to spare in either chamber. And pragmatic conservatives are in very short supply. MAGA Republicans dominate.
If Hobbs wants to govern, rather than just be a partisan spear-chucker, she will have to develop and nurture the space for bipartisan deal-making. Otherwise, she will face a MAGA stalemate with potentially serious consequences for her and the state. Hard to see how a state budget gets passed, if Hobbs gets herself locked into an enduring stalemate with MAGA legislators.
That may be inevitable. MAGA Republicans may be too strong and too uninterested for there to be any space for bipartisan deal-making. The only option available to Hobbs may be to run state agencies, veto MAGA legislation, and hope that enough Republicans don’t want to see a state government shutdown that some kind of status quo budget can eke through.
But it is premature for Hobbs to reach that conclusion. She should at least give a shot at developing and nurturing a space for constructive and productive bipartisan deal-making.
It’s hard to think of a worst way to give that a shot than calling a special session on abortion right out of the gate.
Hobbs is passionately pro-choice. She wants to see the pre-Roe law banning abortions from conception repealed. She has also expressed opposition to the post-Roe law limiting abortions after 15 weeks.
The Republican caucuses, however, are equally as passionately pro-life. It’s hard to see how Hobbs gets what she says she wants out of such a special session. In fact, I can’t imagine the Republican leadership even bringing anything that would ease abortion restrictions up for a vote.
Regardless of how the courts settle the questions about the state’s conflicting abortion laws, the issue is undoubtedly headed to the ballot in 2024. The pro-choice forces will put an initiative on the ballot. The pro-life forces may also, depending on how the court cases come out.
The pro-choice initiative movement wouldn’t get any particular gain from a failed special session. Nor is it clear what Hobbs gains from starting her governorship by creating a political drama in which the passions of both sides are raw and inflamed.
It is clear what she loses: a good start on seeing the extent to which there can be space for bipartisan deal-making to develop and nurture.
Perhaps Hobbs sees the political landscape differently. Perhaps she thinks that a GOP-controlled legislature dominated by MAGA Republicans will actually ease abortion restrictions. Or that failure somehow helps the initiative drive.
Or perhaps she thinks a MAGA stalemate is the best she can hope for over the next two years. Proceeding with her plan to call a special session on abortion could make that a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Reach Robb at email@example.com.