Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Katie Hobbs is trying to climb her way out of a hole that is beginning to look like a political grave.
On Thursday, Hobbs finally spoke about the firing of Talonya Adams, a Black woman who won her federal discrimination lawsuit last week after being fired from her job as a House Democratic analyst while Hobbs was House minority leader.
The hole only got deeper.
Hobbs did, at least, acknowledge that she played a role in Adams’ 2015 firing. That is certainly better than last week’s statement from her campaign, blaming it all on Republicans.
But Hobbs also insisted on Thursday there were good reasons to fire Adams that had nothing to do with race or gender. Yet two years ago, she publicly apologized to Adams and lamented that she hadn’t been a “stronger ally”.
Hobbs cites 'other factors' but won't elaborate
Now she says there was a pattern of issues with Adams’ performance.
“I can say with certainty on my part, my decision in the termination was not based on race or gender,” she told Arizona Mirror’s Jeremy Duda. “There were other factors.”
She just won’t tell us what those factors are, reasoning that she could be sued since they apparently didn’t come up at trial. Curiously, she also told Duda that she doesn’t want the state to appeal the jury’s verdict.
Make that, the second jury’s verdict.
Adams sued the state Senate after discovering that her salary was substantially less than most of her white and male colleagues.
According to court testimony, when Adams emailed Senate Democratic leaders and the Democrats’ chief of staff to discuss her concerns, Hobbs replied that her email was “inappropriate” and that her concerns already had been addressed.
Within weeks, Adams was fired while in Seattle, taking care of her 19-year-old son during a medical emergency.
A jury twice sided with Talonya Adams
Adams won a $1 million jury verdict in 2019, prompting Hobbs’ apology. But the judge found that Adams hadn’t proved a portion of her claim, so a second trial was ordered.
Last week, a jury awarded Adams $2.75 million – $750,000 for pay discrimination and $2 million for the retaliatory firing after she complained about it.
That’ll likely be knocked down, given the $300,000 cap on federal discrimination awards for an employer of this size.
But Hobbs, too, has been knocked down by her pass-the-buck response, minimizing her role in kicking Adams to the curb.
She correctly notes that Republicans are responsible for the pay disparity. The majority party sets the pay scale and has routinely stiffed Democratic staffers.
But it’s clear, from trial testimony, that Hobbs was the key figure in Adams’ firing. Hobbs testified that it was a “group decision” and after the verdict her campaign issued a statement saying the Republican chief of staff was the “ultimate decision-maker”. But the Republican and Democratic chiefs of staff made it clear on the witness stand that it was Hobbs’ call.
That call will haunt Hobbs' bid for governor
That’s a call that will now haunt her campaign for governor.
Hobbs had been on a roll. Republicans have made the coming election all about “election integrity” and Secretary of State Hobbs has emerged as a national figure in the wake of Maricopa County’s election audit.
But her bumbling response to the Adams verdict has turned what could have been a one-day story into a campaign catastrophe.
Already, a coalition of influential Black leaders is urging Democrats to reconsider their support for Hobbs.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure Katie Hobbs is not successful,” said former state Rep. Cloves Campbell, who publishes the Arizona Informant, the only African American-owned weekly newspaper in the state.
Talonya Adams, meanwhile, is offering to campaign against Hobbs and Hobbs’ two Democratic opponents, former Nogales Mayor Marco Lopez and former state Rep. Aaron Lieberman, saying it raises serious questions about her leadership skills.
Hobbs should drop out of the race
It also raises serious questions about Hobbs’ ability to win what already was going to be a bruiser of a general election. The Democratic nominee will need minority and female voters to win.
Hobbs is hobbled, yet she apparently doesn’t see it.
“This is something that happened seven years ago,” she told Duda. “There was a trial two years ago. It’s not a new issue. And I am going to continue to work to earn the trust and support of Arizona voters.”
What she should do is get out of the race.
The coming gubernatorial campaign was always going to be a battle. Add in Joe Biden’s sliding approval ratings and a Democratic nominee who turns off minority voters and we well could be looking at …
Gov. Kari Lake?
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Katie Hobbs needs to get out of the governor's race