Petersen declares war on Hobbs
The confirmation process isn't the venue for policy debates or scoring partisan points.
Let’s begin with a philosophical discussion of the role of the legislative confirmation authority for executive branch appointments in our system of checks and balances. And let’s begin that discussion with what are inappropriate exercises of that authority.
The confirmation process shouldn’t be a venue for policy debates. Nor should it be a venue for scoring partisan points.
The debate about what policy should prevail in the executive branch was settled by voters when they elected Katie Hobbs governor. Hobbs should be able to staff her administration with officials who are committed to supporting and implementing her policies, even if Republican lawmakers disagree with those policies. There are other venues for the legislature to contest with Hobbs over policy.
The appropriate exercise of the confirmation authority in the separation of powers was addressed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 76. In it, Hamilton said that the rejection of an executive branch nominee should be rare. And he enumerated the limited grounds on which confirmation should be withheld. The requirement that the Senate confirm executive nominees, Hamilton wrote, “would be an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity.”
None of Hobbs’ nominees to fill out her cabinet fit within these categories Hamilton identified as justifying denying the executive her choice of high-level officials within her administration. They all appear to be professionally qualified, not “unfit characters.”
There is nothing about the state confirmation process for executive branch appointments that would warrant a deviation from the principles regarding its appropriate use as explicated by Hamilton. Yet Senate President Warren Petersen has set in motion a process clearly intended to nobble Hobbs and her administration, substantively and politically.
Historically, confirmation hearings and recommendations have been the responsibility of standing committees that oversee similar subjects as the nominee’s writ. Petersen instead has appointed a special committee to handle all Hobbs’ nominees. And as chairman, he named Jake Hoffman, a MAGA cage fighter.
Perhaps Hoffman will exhibit unexpected responsibility and circumspection in his conduct of the committee’s business, with due deference to what should be, under the principles of the separation of powers, Hobbs’ ability to staff her administration with her choice of officials.
Far more likely, Hoffman will attempt to use the committee as a battering ram to damage and incapacitate Hobbs to the maximum extent possible. His press release after being named chairman was combative, and enunciated a very expansive and un-Hamiltonian view of the role of the state Senate in determining who should be permitted to staff the Hobbs administration.
The special committee to vet Hobbs’ nominees is split 3 to 2 in favor of Republicans. Keeping the confirmation process from deteriorating into a partisan punching bag will depend on the other two Republicans, Sine Kerr and T.J. Shope. Neither are MAGA cage fighters like Hoffman. Shope in particular has shown, from time to time, some sense of responsibility and independence from the MAGA miasma that has descended upon the Arizona GOP. So, there is some modicum of hope that Hobbs’ ability to staff her government won’t be completely derailed.
This is one of several signs that GOP legislators intend to try to overawe Hobbs rather than work with her to forge bipartisan compromises. Hobbs should not assume the worst. She should remain open to the possibility that, in the end, Senate Republicans will allow her to staff her administration with officials of her choosing. And that, before there is a government shutdown, GOP lawmakers will be willing to negotiate a compromise state budget in good faith.
But Hobbs should be planning for the worst. Thinking through how to staff her administration if Senate Republicans are going to misuse the confirmation process to nobble her substantively and politically. Preparing options if the GOP leadership is never going to be willing to negotiate in good faith over the budget.
I think the GOP attempts to overawe Hobbs will fail. In office, she seems to be made of sterner stuff than was apparent on the campaign trail. GOP legislators probably also need a Plan B. But I’m not sure anyone in their ranks has the wit to devise one or the aptitude to bring it off.
Reach Robb at email@example.com.