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Arizona governor's rocky start: Oath laugh, inaugural donation questions, and speech walkout

Despite promising transparency, Gov. Katie Hobbs won't disclose amounts of individual donations to her inauguration fund.

Published: January 11, 2023 7:52pm

Updated: January 12, 2023 11:29pm

Newly inaugurated Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs is off to a rocky start, following a giggling bout at her swearing-in, questions surrounding inauguration donations, and a walkout during her first speech to the state Legislature by lawmakers who are planning to sue her.

Hobbs was sworn in on Jan. 2 in a brief ceremony off-limits to reporters, according to the Arizona Republic. A media pool photographer was present, and the ceremony was livestreamed. A public ceremony was later held on Thursday last week.

As Hobbs took her oath of office, she laughed with her mother, saying, "Stop it, Mom," just before reciting, "that I will support the Constitution."

Kari Lake's campaign Twitter account tweeted a clipped video recording of the livestream of Hobbs' ill-timed laughter, captioning it with: "This is one of the darkest moments in the history of Arizona. An illegitimate 'Governor' laughing in the face of our constitution. But it's always darkest before the dawn. We will expose this fraud for the world to see. Justice is coming. @katiehobbs won't be laughing then."

Goldwater Institute Vice President Timothy Sandefur pushed back on a similar characterization of the incident when he retweeted a post by former Gov. Doug Ducey staffer Brian Anderson. Hobbs "was unable to take the oath of office this morning without stammering and laughing through it," Anderson had tweeted. 

"This is not a fair characterization," Sandefur responded. "If you watch the whole video you can see that Gov. Hobbs was feeling emotional & made a little joke to her mother (holding the Bible) about how they were both getting choked up."

Meanwhile, Arizona's Family reported, the funding for Hobbs' inaugural events has not been fully disclosed, except for the fact that she and her campaign each requested as much as $250,000 from donorsWhile the government website for the inauguration lists the donors, it does not disclose the amounts that each donated.

Ducey, by contrast, disclosed both donor names and their donation amounts for his 2019 inaugural events, the Arizona Republic reported.

Hobbs was asked by ABC15 about the donation amounts not being disclosed. "All of the donors are on the website," she replied. "I don't even know why this is an issue. They're all on the website."

The donations go to the Katie Hobbs Inauguration Fund, the Republic reported. The fund is a 501(c)4 nonprofit that Hobbs' campaign manager Nicole DeMont incorporated in December, according to records filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission.

A spokesperson for Hobbs' inaugural events told the Republic the fund was a social welfare group and the donations were funding the public ceremony and inaugural ball. The spokesperson didn't respond to questions about how much was raised for the fund or how the fund aligns with Hobbs' campaign promises of transparency, the Republic reported.

Arizona state Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope told Arizona's Family that Hobbs' inaugural fund "might be something we would look into." 

Citing state disclosure laws, the Republican lawmaker said, "We should have the right to know as a citizen what kind of contributions they're getting."

Hobbs' administration responded to Shope's comments in a statement to Arizona's Family: "No taxpayer funds have been used for either (yesterday's) inaugural ceremony or the inaugural gala. The inaugural committee has made the names of all donors public and available on the website ... The governor maintains her commitment to transparency and accountability in her administration."

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Arizona Freedom Caucus, which consists of Republican state legislators, announced they will file a lawsuit challenging Hobbs' first executive order, which purports to strengthen anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ state employees and contractors.

Hobbs "believes that she has the ability to legislate with the power of the pen, attempting to create law that simply does not exist," the caucus leader, state Sen. Jake Hoffman, said during a press conference Monday, according to the Arizona Sun Times.

Executive orders furthering "legislative intent" in laws are acceptable, but her first executive order goes beyond that, he added.

"Legislative intent was never to include extra provisions within protected classes," Hoffman said, announcing that a lawsuit would be filed soon.

Later that day, as Hobbs delivered her State of the State address to the Legislature, several GOP lawmakers from the Arizona Freedom Caucus either walked out or turned their backs to Hobbs.

"It took 5 seconds for Katie Hobbs to begin legislating from the 9th floor, so I will not listen to her rhetoric for even 5 seconds," state Rep. Rachel Jones tweeted on Monday. "There are too many questions left unanswered, litigation still moving through the courts, and many concerns about the border, not pronouns.

"This is why I immediately left the House Floor after the start of the State of the State. I promised to be the voice of the people, and I will never break that promise."

Sens. Anthony Kern and Justine Wadsack also stood facing the back wall of the state House of Representatives for several minutes during the address. Some lawmakers left after Hobbs mentioned vetoing bills restricting abortion, the Arizona Republic reported.

Hobbs also claimed in her speech that expanding the state's school choice program would "likely bankrupt" the state.

"Funding this expansion is poised to cost Arizona taxpayers an estimated $1.5 billion over the next 10 years if left unaddressed," she said.

Arizona's Empowerment Scholarship Account program allows applicants to spend some taxpayer dollars on private school costs. Public school enrollment has dropped by 31,000 students since 2019, while charter school enrollment has increased by 20,000. An additional 20,000 students are expected to use funds from the program for their nonpublic school education, according to an analysis by the nonprofit Common Sense Institute.

“Based on current data, the increase in annual ESA program costs attributable to universal eligibility is $197.9 million," the study found. "Existing program costs add another approximately $179 million, for a total cost of about $377 million. While the cost of the ESA's program under universal eligibility exceeds the additional $33 million initially appropriated by the Legislature, the Arizona Department of Education likely has sufficient excess funding to more than cover the difference, due to continued post-pandemic enrollment declines."

The report by the nonprofit estimates as of the first quarter of the year an $8 million end-of-year surplus as a result of the system-wide enrollment trends.

In addition to facing an upcoming lawsuit by state lawmakers, Hobbs is a defendant in Arizona GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake's appeal of a county judge's ruling against her lawsuit challenging certification of the November election for governor. The appeal demands the election result be set aside due to alleged "massive violations of law and maladministration by Maricopa County."

Hobbs' office didn't respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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