Secretary of State Katie Hobbs is reversing course from a plan to stop candidates from coming to her office to file paperwork for the ballot, but she had choice words for a legal opinion from Attorney General Mark Brnovich declaring her plan illegal, calling it “political grandstandnig” in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If the opinion that the attorney general tweeted about was anything more than political grandstanding, then he should have provided that level of analysis when we discussed it with his office last week,” Hobbs, a Democrat, said in a written statement.
“It is unproductive for him, and his colleagues, to use the fear and uncertainty of this crisis to score political points.”
Brnovich, a Republican, on Tuesday issued a formal opinion saying that state law and a recent executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey didn’t allow for Hobbs to bar would-be candidates from filing their nominating petitions in person with her office before the April 6 deadline to do so.
Hobbs last week said her office was no longer accepting petitions delivered by candidates or their representatives as a way to limit her employees’ exposure to the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 illness. Instead, Hobbs said that candidates should mail the nominating petitions to her office; later, she announced that a dropbox had been installed in the lobby of the state’s Executive Tower where candidates could also deposit their petitions.
Brnovich wrote Tuesday that state law requires candidates have an opportunity to receive a receipt confirming the number of petitions filed, something that can’t happen if petitions are mailed or left in a dropbox. He also pointed to Ducey’s executive order listing government operations as an “essential” function during the COVID-19 crisis.
In her response Wednesday, Hobbs said that even though her office had continued to help candidates who had come into the secretary of state’s office to file their petitions so they can qualify for the August primary ballot. And it will continue to accept in-person filings in the face of Brnovich’s opinion.
“To be clear, everyone who has come to my office in person, including (Republican Senate President Karen) Fann who requested this opinion, was assisted,” Hobbs said. “This is a compelling indication that their recent actions were part of a coordinated partisan game.”
Fann and Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, this week sent a letter to Hobbs challenging her decision to require candidates to mail their nominating petitions.
Hobbs is already reportedly mounting a campaign for governor in 2022. Brnovich is seen as a likely Republican contender to replace Ducey when his term ends.
***CORRECTION: This story has been corrected. An earlier version incorrectly characterized Hobbs’s response.