Katie Hobbs' refusal to debate her opponents is a snub to voters

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has refused to debate her opponents in the Democratic primary race for Arizona governor.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has refused to debate her opponents in the Democratic primary race for Arizona governor.

On June 30, the Democrats who want to be Arizona’s next governor will appear for this year’s one-and-only televised debate.

Well, two of them will, anyway. Katie Hobbs won’t be there.

Apparently, the Democratic frontrunner can't spare an hour to give primary voters the chance to evaluate the candidates, side by side.

She is the only candidate in the governor’s race to decline to participate in the Clean Elections debates and one of only two candidates in statewide races to take a pass. (The other is Republican Mark Finchem, who is running for secretary of state.)

“All other statewide candidates have appeared so far or agreed to appear in our debates,” Gina Roberts, voter education director for the Citizens Clean Elections Commission, told me, via email. “We typically have 100% participation from all statewide candidates, so I am hopeful circumstances will change and Sec. Hobbs and Rep. Finchem will be able to join us.”

Katie Hobbs can't spare an hour for debate?

And I am hopeful to one day see glittered pigs wearing crowns and doing loop-de-loops around the Capitol dome.

In other words, about as hopeful as I am about seeing Hobbs engaging in a debate to show voters why she’s a better choice than Aaron Lieberman or Marco Lopez.

Alas, she has “multiple events in Tucson that day,” her spokesman Joe Wolf explained.

Wolf says Hobbs is accessible to reporters for interviews and spends a lot of time meeting with voters “where they are” across the state.

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“Democratic voters have every right to see their candidates and to have them examined by the press and make a decision and I think the secretary in particular is extremely available and accessible,” he said.

Curiously, just not for one hour starting at 5 p.m. on June 30, when the Democratic gubernatorial debate will air live on PBS.

I get it. If you’re the frontrunner, there’s nothing to be gained from deigning to debate your opponents and giving them a sliver of the spotlight.

Kyrsten Sinema wouldn’t give Deedra Abboud the time of day when it came to meeting face to face during the 2018 Senate Democratic primary. Incumbent John McCain similarly snubbed his Republican challenger, Kelli Ward, in 2016.

Debates rarely surprise, but this race isn't over

And rarely do debates offer any surprises, though Republican Martha McSally accusing Sinema of treason at the end of their one-and-only Senate general-election debate in 2018 was certainly a eye opener. (These days, a politician throwing out an accusation of treason just means it’s Monday.)

But even if you’ve got the race sewed up, it seems disrespectful to voters to assume you’ve won before the ballots are even printed.

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I doubt former state Rep. Cloves Campbell Jr., publisher of the Arizona Informant and an influential member of the African American community, thinks the race is won. Just this week, he endorsed Lopez – no doubt in part a reaction to Hobbs’ initial failure to take responsibly for her role in the dismissal of a Black legislative staffer fired after complaining about pay discrimination while Hobbs was Senate minority leader.

Lieberman doesn’t sound like a guy who thinks the race is over. He’s still out there slogging from forum to forum, where he says Hobbs is a consistent no-show.

“Tonight, Marco Lopez and I will be at our 16th forum for a legislative district that Katie Hobbs will not show up for a single one of,” he told me on Wednesday. “She’s not even going to attend the televised PBS debate. I don’t know how you can run for governor of Arizona, for the Democratic nomination, and not be willing to actually talk to and engage with Democratic voters.”

Voters deserve to see their choices side-by-side

Wolf, meanwhile, says Hobbs meets with voters every day and is focused on winning the race in November.

“I’m not seeing a single data point that indicates that Aaron Lieberman and Marco Lopez are even remotely capable of winning this race,” he said.

Maybe not, but shouldn’t Democratic voters be the judge of that? Is it really too much to ask that she spend 60 minutes demonstrating why she’s the strongest candidate in the race?

Arizona voters are choosing a new governor for the first time in eight years. We need a leader who has plan to improve our schools – one who can figure out a way to get water out of rocks and deal with the complicated and often competing challenges and demands that come with being a growing and diverse state.

Wouldn’t it be nice for Democratic primary voters to have the chance to view their options?

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Katie Hobbs snubs voters by refusing to debate Democrats