(Cole Lauterbach, The Center Square) Ariz.’s election debate authority will not bend to Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ demand to have a sequestered conversation with a moderator instead of a traditional debate with Republican Kari Lake. The two women won their respective primaries for governor and face off in the general election on Nov. 8.
The Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission held a virtual meeting Thursday to consider Hobbs’ demand that she and Lake give separate moderated interviews, eschewing the long-held tradition the panel has organized.
“I don’t believe that the commission should accept Secretary Hobbs’ proposal of these back-to-back town hall interviews,” commission Chairman Damien Meyer said.
“However, I do want to acknowledge the concerns of the Hobbs campaign that any debate needs to be a fair and reasoned debate.”
Meyer tasked both campaigns to work with the commission within a week to come to a compromise.
Other commissioners reluctantly agreed to a week but opposed appeasing Hobbs. They voted 3-1 to give staffers and candidates a week to come to an agreement and debate.
“We have a format that we have used for a number of years that has been successful,” said Mark Kimble, an independent, who criticized the Hobbs campaign for demanding a revamp of the format days after the deadline.
“It’s incumbent on us to say ‘enough.’”
Hobbs appointed Kimble to his position on the commission in her time as Senate Minority Leader.
Commissioner Galen Paton agreed with Kimble, saying they owe it to the electorate to put the two into a debate.
“If they want to do town halls, they can do it somewhere else,” Paton said.
“This is our top elected official. If you want to represent nearly 8 million Arizonans, we need to see a debate between these two.”
Commissioner Steve Titla agreed with the others but stressed that civility is maintained.
“There should be reasonable people talking, not speaking over each other, not insulting one another,” he said.
“If you’re going to have an unreasonable debate where all you’re doing is rehashing the 2020 election and insulting the other person and not bringing your own ideas for the state of [Ariz.], then that is no debate.”
Republican Commissioner Amy Chan recused herself from the decision, as she’s the general counsel for Hobbs in her capacity as secretary of state.
Hobbs campaign manager Nicole DeMont told the commission that Lake had initially agreed to a town hall format but just recently backtracked.
“I think you can very much see that this is just her next PR stunt and she’s not actually interested in debating real solutions,” she said, adding that “you can’t debate a conspiracy theorist.”
Meyer pressed DeMont as to whether there was “any circumstance” where Hobbs would share the stage with Lake. DeMont refused to answer, saying only that the campaign would review a request in writing.
Timothy LaSota, who represented Lake at the hearing, told commissioners that Hobbs was trying to change the rules of a debate at the eleventh hour.
“If the commission capitulates here, these debates are going to become a thing of the past,” he said.
It’s now up to Hobbs to agree whether or not she’ll participate, potentially making her the only major candidate to refuse the invitation in this election cycle.