Brnovich, Hobbs at odds on challenge to lawmaker

Katie Hobbs in January 2019. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

A challenge to a lawmaker’s nominating petitions has become the latest round in the ongoing feud between Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Hobbs, a Democrat, argued the Republican attorney general withdrew as her counsel at the last minute in a case challenging whether Rep. Shawnna Bolick should be on the ballot and took a position contradictory to the legal advice his office had been providing to her.

At issue in the case is whether Bolick, a Phoenix Republican, can use the address of a UPS store instead of her home address or a post office box on the nominating petitions she submitted to qualify to be on the ballot for the August primary election. 

A judge ruled in late April that Bolick, whose voter registration data can be legally shielded from public view because her husband is a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court, had substantially complied with the law and that her name could therefore appear on the ballot. The voter challenging Bolick’s candidacy has appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

In a brief filed with the state Supreme Court on Thursday, the secretary of state’s office argued that the law protecting Bolick’s address from public release applies only to voter registration records, not to candidate nominating petitions, where a home address ensures for voters that a candidate lives within her legislative district, as required by law. 

It “would undermine the integrity of the candidate nomination process” to allow candidates to use a mail service store address rather than a home address, Hobbs argued.

Brnovich argued the opposite, writing in an amicus brief on Wednesday that the address confidentiality law should apply to nominating petitions. And even if that’s not the case, the attorney general said a post office address should suffice instead of a candidate’s home address.

“It defies reason that when the legislature enacted the Secured Registrant Law they intended to leave open a gaping loophole which demands this private information be publicly disclosed through the Candidate Nominating Laws,” Brnovich wrote.

Hobbs called Brnovich’s interpretation “troubling,” and argued that it defied the clear wording of state law. And she said his office had advised her that the opposite was true up until the moment he withdrew as her counsel.

“The Attorney General’s suggestion that people need only comply with express statutory requirements, and can ignore without consequence any administrative procedural requirements, would undermine the Secretary’s and other state agencies’ ability to implement laws and fulfill their statutory duties, and is troubling at best coming from the State’s chief law enforcement officer,” Hobbs wrote.

Furthermore, Hobbs took issue with Brnovich, who represents the secretary of state’s office along with most other state agencies, taking a contradictory position to hers. She said she “never consented to her counsel taking a position in conflict with her own in the same matter after (he) advised her on the precise statutory provisions at issue, represented her at the trial court just last week, and in this appeal until just hours ago.”

Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for Brnovich, said he couldn’t discuss the attorney general’s decision to withdraw as Hobbs’s counsel in the case. He said Hobbs and Brnovich each chose their respective positions in the case, and that, as attorney general, Brnovich has the authority to file an amicus brief in the case.

Brnovich and Hobbs, the top two statewide elected officials in Arizona after Gov. Doug Ducey, have clashed several times in recent months. 

Brnovich blocked Hobbs’s attempt to prohibit candidates from filing their nominating petitions in person at the secretary of state’s office, a policy she tried to implement as a measure to combat the spread of COVID-19. Brnovich criticized Hobbs’s decision not to defend a lawsuit that sought to force the state to allow citizen initiative campaigns to collect signatures online. And Hobbs asked the Arizona Supreme Court to reject Brnovich’s argument that he has legal authority to initiate lawsuits against the Board of Regents and other state entities.