Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman planted their flags as Arizona’s first Democratic statewide elected officials in nearly a decade when they were sworn in on Monday.
As secretary of state, Hobbs is now the top Democratic elected official in state government and first in the line of succession to the Governor’s Office. And she’s the top elections official in a predominantly Republican state where Democrats are often at odds with the GOP over election policies and laws.
In her speech after her swearing-in at Monday’s inauguration ceremony at the Capitol, Hobbs pledged to “oppose any effort to place any additional restrictions on your right to vote,” one of the biggest applause lines of her speech.
Hobbs also referenced some of the troubles that plagued her predecessor, Michele Reagan, who lost in the Republican primary to businessman Steve Gaynor. She said there are a lot of improvements that need to be made at the Secretary of State’s Office, including repairing its relationship with Arizona’s 15 county recorders, which was fractured under Reagan and her elections director, Eric Spencer. And she said she’ll work with county election officials to draft a new elections procedures manual, which Reagan did not put in place for either of the two election cycles she oversaw.
Hobbs said her top priority as secretary of state will be to protect Arizonans’ “sacred right to vote.” That includes protecting voter information from cybercriminals – she said one of her first acts as secretary of state will be to create a cybersecurity task force – and doing all she can to ensure the fairness of elections, including by avoiding situations where voters are discouraged from casting ballots at polling places by excessively long lines, as was the case in the 2016 presidential preference election in Maricopa County.
Hoffman, the first Democrat elected as Arizona’s top education official since 1990, signalled that she’ll take an active role in pushing for progressive education policies and budgets. She said she looks forward to working with Gov. Doug Ducey and the Legislature to pass competitive salaries for all educators, including support staff and classified staff. And she proposed policies such as paid maternity and paternity leave to attract teachers and alleviate the teacher shortage in Arizona.
But given that Ducey and the Republican-controlled Legislature are likely to reject major spending increases, Hoffman’s proposals will likely face an uphill climb. Ducey and lawmakers last year approved the first half of a proposed 20-percent pay raise for teachers, but excluded other school staffers, a decision that met fierce criticism from the #RedforEd movement and education leaders during last year’s statewide teachers’ strike.
Hoffman said she frequently used the phrase “Imagine if” during her nearly two-year campaign, often asking people to imagine if Arizona “elevated the voice of our teachers and let educators lead,” if the state celebrated diversity and multilingualism, worked collaboratively and used research to guide the K-12 system toward its best solutions, and ensured that all students had the support and services they needed to succeed.
“Well, guess what? I’m done saying, ‘Imagine if.’ I am here to say, ‘Let’s get to work.’ And I’m thrilled and thankful to be stepping into this role so that I can best serve my students,” said Hoffman, a former speech-language pathologist in the Peoria Unified School District.
Hoffman replaces Diane Douglas, a Republican whose one term as superintendent was often characterized by controversy and inflammatory statements, especially in the first year of her term. She said her top priority will be to “restore the Department of Education to be an agency of service,” and to conduct an audit of the department’s spending.