Katie Hobbs should try to veto her way to a Democratic legislative majority

February 20, 2023 9:09 am

Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoes a Republican-backed “skinny budget” proposal on Feb. 16, 2023. Photo courtesy Arizona Governor’s Office

Seven weeks into her tenure as governor, Katie Hobbs is battling with the GOP-led legislature at every turn, and it seems unlikely that she’ll be able to accomplish much, if anything for the foreseeable future.

She has proposed a budget with dead-on-arrival components that skewer GOP sacred cows, vetoed Republicans’ political theater budget, openly dismissed a variety of GOP proposals and made no bones about her willingness to veto bills that don’t earn bipartisan support.

She’s practically goading Republicans to send her every far-right proposal that they can, daring them to let her veto more bills in a single year than the 58 that Janet Napolitano, the last Democrat to occupy the Governor’s Office in Arizona, rejected in 2005.

It’s exactly how she should handle this legislature. And in doing so, she’s walking them into a political trap that could leave Republicans as the minority party at the Capitol.


The short-term goal for Hobbs should be to find a way to cobble together budget agreements this year and next. 

Little substantial policy beyond that is likely to happen. And that’s OK: There’s no better way for her to boost Democrats’ chances in 2024 than by letting these Republicans demonstrate exactly how out of the mainstream they are and why voters shouldn’t trust them to have their hands on the levels of power.

It’s not the strategy that Napolitano used, and there’s good reason for that. While it’s only natural that Hobbs will be compared to Napolitano, a canny political operator who regularly ran circles around GOP legislators, there are significant differences that warrant a radically different approach to governing.

In the 14 years since Napolitano was governor, there have been two seismic shifts: The Republican legislative majorities are considerably more far-right now and those majorities are razor thin, trending in Democrats’ favor.

When Napolitano became governor in 2003, there were 39 Republicans in the 60-member House of Representatives and 17 in the 30-member Senate. Democrats in the legislature were utterly marginalized through her entire tenure as governor, and struggled to accomplish much of anything on their own. Their best source of power was Napolitano’s veto power — which she used, though not as often as many Democrats would have liked, correctly recognizing there were political risks if she was seen as too veto happy.

The path to success for Napolitano was through the moderate wing of the Republican caucuses, which were actually a thing back in the 2000s, allowing her to find allies for a variety of her priorities — and to put internal pressure on GOP leaders who were reluctant to compromise.

But there are no true moderate Republicans at the Capitol any more, and even if there were, there’s no longer any feasible path to going around GOP leadership to cut a deal with Hobbs on anything of substance, like the budget.

Instead, these majority caucuses are stuffed to the gills with extremists. As the Republican Party writ large has become Trumpified and morphed into a pseudo-populist party that prioritizes owning the libs over actual governing, so, too, have the legislature’s GOP caucuses. 

Hobbs should hope each and every one of those batty proposals that appeal only to the most hardcore Republican voters lands on her desk so she can make a show out of vetoing them.

And those extremists are trotting out all sorts of crazy ideas, like canceling everyone’s voter registration once a decade, training students to shoot guns, criminalizing drag shows, demonizing LGBTQ Arizonans, going back to the Stone Age to count ballots, overhauling elections laws to exact revenge on political opponents, limiting the power voters have at the ballot box and more.

Hobbs should hope each and every one of those proposals — and all of the other batty ideas that appeal only to the most hardcore Republican voters — lands on her desk so she can make a show out of vetoing them.

Doing so will highlight just how extreme this crop of GOP legislators is, and their howls of protest or bragging to the base about earning a veto will only underscore that. Republicans seem eager to rack up vetoes, believing that doing so will paint Hobbs as some sort of tyrant. They’ve already declared their intention to shut down the government, and have started blaming Hobbs for it.

But the Republicans charting that course are high on their own supply of right-wing talking points and grievance politics. What they say and do will be popular among the fervent MAGA crowd and the proto-fascist set whose brains have been marinating in the right-wing outrage media ecosystem, but they fail to recognize that audience is small — and shrinking. Those aren’t the voters they need to win over.

That Republicans held their legislative majority by the skin of their teeth in 2022, in what should have been a strong year for the GOP, is great news for Democrats heading into 2024. 

Self-reflection is punished in the MAGA movement, so there’s no taking stock of what happened in 2022, no reckoning with what happened to drive tens of thousands of Republican voters away from the GOP’s premier candidates. If there were, they might conclude that running a campaign on election conspiracies and opposing the woke boogeyman of the moment is bad politics in a state with rapidly shifting demographics that has now rejected Trump’s vision of America in three straight elections.

Instead, they are doubling down on nutty election conspiracies and a complete and total refusal to share power. 

And if that’s how Republicans want to govern — or not govern, really — for the next two years, then Hobbs and Democrats should put that on display for every voter to see. If she does, she just might find herself working with Democratic majorities in the legislature for the final two years of her term.


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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.