Any rational person looking at their choices for Secretary of State would make this choice, but when has anyone accused Arizonans of being rational?
Too many Arizona voters are low information voters who vote out of GOP tribalism for anyone with an “R” behind his or her name. This is how we have wound up with the long-running GOP culture of corruption in Arizona with bad politicians doing bad things because they are given a pass to get away with it by an indifferent electorate. This is what Republican candidate Steve Gaynor is banking on. He has indicated that he would do things, if elected, that would land the state in court, again.
The Arizona Republic today endorses Democratic state Senator Katie Hobbs for Secretary of State. She is by far the most qualified candidate for Secretary of State, and will do the job professionally and responsibly. Why the unknown is so scary in Arizona’s secretary of state race:
Millions of dollars are being spent, much of which was once earmarked for the gubernatorial race. And that doesn’t include the more than $1.5 million Republican Steve Gaynor spent of his own money to trounce incumbent Michele Reagan in the primary.
The extra cash has elevated, and perhaps oversized, an office that’s charged largely with carrying out elections.
But why are the stakes so high now?
What if one becomes governor?
Part of it has to do with Arizona’s line of succession. Three times in the past three decades, the secretary of state has ascended to governor — the most recent in 2009 when Jan Brewer succeeded Janet Napolitano after Napolitano was tapped to become the head of the Department of Homeland Security.
Democratic candidate Katie Hobbs is a former leader at the Sojourner Center, a large non-profit serving abused women, who as a state lawmaker was a consistent voice for women and children services. As Senate minority leader, Hobbs was a steady hand who found occasional bipartisanship on issues such as Medicaid expansion and unclogging the backlog of untested sexual-assault kits.
Republican Steve Gaynor, meanwhile, is a cipher. He is a businessman who until late last year participated in politics largely as a Republican donor. In a meeting with The Republic‘s editorial board, he gave few specifics on what he would do to reform the office and displayed little passion for it — he said he was recruited by a handful of Republicans who were unhappy with Michele Reagan.
That he spent an estimated $1.5 million of his own money to run for office begs the question whether Gaynor is positioning himself to be governor. He says no. Yet he repeatedly touts stances — he says he’s pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-border security and “100 percent pro-Trump” — that have little to do with the secretary of state’s office. That suggests otherwise.
How would they approach the office?
Hobbs is tempered and agreeable, and has a history of working with the other side when she was at the Legislature. Gaynor is aloof and reluctant to provide specifics on issues. He also has said and done some eyebrow-raising things that could place the office in the headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
Gaynor accused Reagan in the primary of “allowing illegal immigrants to vote in federal elections in Arizona.” He never provided support for that conclusion, even when challenged with the relatively low number of voter-fraud prosecutions in the past decade by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office — none involving an undocumented immigrant [they were white “snowbird” retirees].
In a meeting with The Republic, Gaynor said he wouldn’t support legislation protecting LGBTQ employees from discrimination – not because he doesn’t support protections, but because it would “create problems.” Despite reporters pressing for additional details, Gaynor could not explain why such a law would cause problems.
His lack of specificity – and his inability to see why he should expound – is troubling.
Where do Hobbs and Gaynor disagree?
Both candidates promise to restore public confidence and stability to the office and the elections it oversees. But they have vastly different ideas for doing so – some of which break down predictably along party lines.
Gaynor, for instance, supports the “ballot harvesting” law the GOP-led Legislature passed in 2016, which bans groups from collecting and turning in ballots on others’ behalf.
Republicans contend the law was needed to deter fraud; Hobbs and other Democrats maintain that it was unnecessary and that it hurts the elderly and minorities who face greater challenges getting to polling places.
Gaynor and Hobbs are also split on “dark money” political contributions, for which the secretary of state’s office would have played an enforcement role had this year’s Outlaw Dirty Money citizens initiative survived a court challenge.
Gaynor believes making anonymous contributions is a constitutionally protected right; Hobbs believes the public has a right to know who donated.
How have they handled primary snafus?
One thing Gaynor and Hobbs have in common is trying to explain away what they told party faithful — and captured on video — during the primary run.
In Gaynor’s case, in response to a question at a GOP candidate forum in Wickenburg in August, he said he wants ballots printed in English only. “I would be the first to say it should be … ballots, information pamphlets, all the material in our country, should be in English,” he said, according to a video of the event posted on Facebook.
Gaynor followed that up by calling on Arizonans to help elect senators who would repeal part of the Voting Rights Act, the legislation that requires some counties to provide election materials for minority language citizen groups. In Arizona, roughly 900,000 voters can receive a ballot in Spanish, Apache or Navajo as a result of the act.
Gaynor now says he was misunderstood but doesn’t deny what he said at the forum. Nor does he offer a reasonable explanation on how he could be misunderstood given the totality of his comments.
Hobbs’ moment came at a Flagstaff forum in April, during which she made comments that could be construed as turning the office into a partisan one if and when Democrats win in November. “And the secretary of state’s office is how we’re going to hold onto those wins, how we’re going to continue to make gains in the Legislature, and really create a state that reflects all of our values,” Hobbs said.
Hers is defensible given the context.
Hobbs’ comments followed a point about how she thinks the elections system in Arizona is rigged to exclude some voters. She said she wants to fight to make the process open to every eligible voter.
So, who’s best?
The secretary of state’s office is one of defined duties that, if carried out correctly, don’t generate headlines. Reagan’s term failed that standard.
Hobbs has the better grasp of the office, and she would improve the voting experience, especially in reaching out to historically disengaged or disenfranchised voters. Gaynor remains an unknown and a potential live wire who hasn’t demonstrated strong knowledge of, or interest in, the job.
Hobbs is the better choice.
This is undoubtedly true, but it will take independents and thoughtful Republicans who cross over to vote with Democrats to elect Katie Hobbs.