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Hobbs scraps nominee for state health department after GOP senators rejected her

By: - February 14, 2023 2:32 pm

Dr. Theresa Cullen testifying at the Feb. 9, 2023, confirmation hearing in the Arizona Senate. Screenshot via Arizona Legislature/azleg.gov

Gov. Katie Hobbs withdrew her nomination of Dr. Theresa Cullen to lead the Arizona Department of Health Services after a contentious hearing last week in which Senate Republicans rejected her nomination. 

Republicans on the newly created Committee on Director Nominations voted not to confirm Cullen because of actions she and the Pima County Board of Supervisors took to curb the spread of COVID-19. The new panel, which exists solely to consider the people Hobbs appoints to lead dozens of state agencies, is led by Sen. Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek Republican who heads up the Arizona Freedom Caucus. 

“Her actions and her decisions saved countless lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hobbs said in a statement announcing the withdrawal of the nomination. “Dr. Cullen’s leadership during those tumultuous years directly resulted in more Arizonans being alive and with us today.” 

Hobbs decried the committee for “vicious personal attacks” that she said “detracts from the important work we have in front of us.”


Hoffman pressed Cullen during the committee hearing, saying she was responsible for an increase in depression and suicide among children due to school closures that occurred early in the pandemic, before vaccines were developed. Hoffman also alleged that “thousands” of jobs were lost due to a program in Pima County that sought for businesses to be compliant with COVID-19 regulations. 

Studies on the impact of closing schools have shown inconsistent results, and researchers are still debating what the future impact may or may not have been on children. Studies have shown that there is some learning loss for children in lower socioeconomic situations, but most students saw smaller setbacks that could likely be gained back.

“While I am deeply concerned that Dr. Cullen has chosen not to proceed as the nominee for AzDHS director, I understand and respect her decision,” Hobbs’ statement Tuesday said, saying the way “some Republicans” on the committee treated nominees “was nothing short of harassment.” The governor added that they “should be ashamed of their behavior — we all should.” 

The Arizona Mirror confirmed with the Governor’s Office that Senate President Warren Petersen received a letter from Hobbs as the full Senate began its meeting to vote on Cullen’s appointment. 

As Petersen began the process to vote on the committee’s recommendation, Senate Democratic Leader Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix, attempted to make a procedural motion to end the vote entirely, stating that Hobbs had withdrawn the nomination. 

Petersen said he had not seen the letter yet and was unaware and that the Senate needed to receive notice in order to do so. 

The Senate eventually voted on the committee’s recommendation and rejected Cullen to lead the state agency. 

“Despite the pressing need for a leader like Dr. Cullen in this position, it is now clear that the majority in the State Senate will continue to play politics rather than prepare for whatever public health threats may arise in the future,” Hobbs wrote in her letter to Petersen. “If the Senate’s Director Nominations Committee and Senate Republicans are unwilling to acknowledge the skill and expertise of Dr. Cullen, there may be no public health professional in the State they would endorse.” 

Hobbs’ office also listed 38 medical associations and hospitals that all wrote letters in support of Cullen.


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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.