Commission holds meeting after Hobbs declines to meet Lake in live Arizona governor debate

Democrat Katie Hobbs on Friday declined to agree to a televised debate with Republican Kari Lake as both seek the Arizona governor’s office, instead proposing individual interviews with the moderator.

The campaign manager for Hobbs, who is currently secretary of state, pointed to a raucous debate between the four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination in the Aug. 2 primary for her decision.

"Secretary Hobbs firmly believes that Arizonans deserve every opportunity to evaluate candidates for public office and hear their visions for the future of our state – without constant interruptions, pointless distractions, childish name-calling, tired conspiracy theories, and demonstrably false accusations," Nicole DeMont said in a letter to the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

Lake had already agreed to the debate and its format, which has been used for years. She also said she was ready to hit the stage with Hobbs at any time, let her pick the moderator and write all the questions.

"I’ll follow any of the rules you want, just show up and debate me," Lake told a podcast interviewer Friday, "And so far she has not agreed to that. She’s a coward."

Ross Trumble, Lake’s spokesman, said individual interviews are not a debate.

"This is not good for the voters," Trumble said. "They deserve much more than just the two candidates sitting in separate rooms."

Hobbs’ campaign has been talking with the Citizens Clean Election Commission and Arizona PBS for weeks to try to agree on terms for the scheduled Oct. 12 debate. The debates are televised and streamed live across the state on Arizona PBS, and numerous television stations also planned to broadcast.

DeMont proposed the separate interviews with Simons. She said the GOP debate led to weeks of ridicule for Arizona.

"As a candidate and as governor, Sec. Hobbs will never participate in something that will make Arizona the butt of late-night TV jokes and national ridicule," DeMont wrote.

The commission had set a Friday deadline for Hobbs to make a decision. But instead of agreeing to a debate moderated by Arizona PBS moderator Ted Simons, Hobbs proposed that the two candidates sit for separate 30-minute interviews.

The hour-long debate ahead of the GOP primary almost immediately devolved into a free-for-all of candidates talking over each other and constantly interrupting each other. Simons struggled to rein in the candidates, and managed to get the front-runners, Lake and developer Karrin Taylor Robson, to address topics like the unfounded belief among the candidates that something was amiss in the 2020 election that saw former President Donald Trump lose in Arizona.

Robson said she believed the election was unfair but said she was focused on 2022, while Lake called it a "corrupt election" she would not have certified. Lake won Trump’s endorsement and the primary.

Simons, a veteran broadcaster who hosts the nightly Arizona Horizon public affairs show, is already set to moderate debates for secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, superintendent of public instruction and corporation commission.

Clean Elections issued a statement saying the proposed changes "would significantly alter the nature of the event."

"This is the first proposal we have received from the Hobbs campaign and we will review it in due course," the statement said.

DeMont’s letter said the campaign had worked with Clean Elections to find an acceptable format, but that the only modifications suggested by the commission were "loosely-enforced time limits."

Special meeting held as debate remains in limbo

On Sept. 8, the Clean Elections Commission held a special meeting that turned out to be a two-hour debate over the gubernatorial debate.

"You cant debate a conspiracy theorist, and at the last debate, she brought it back to the 2020 elections over a dozen times," said Hobbs' campaign manager, Nicole Demont. "So, when she decides to come back to reality and accept the results of our free and fair elections, then we can start a policy debate."

"It would be an insult fest, and for proof, look no further than the primary debate for governor," said Steve Krafft. "That was an insult fest. It was a national joke."

Ultimately, the commission rejected Hobbs' proposal to switch the format, but they did say that certain modifications to the debate format should be made.

"We are living in a political environment we have never seen before, in the divisiveness that is going on in our country today," said Commission Chairman Damien Meyer.

"I would like to hope that some agreement could be reached between the two sides. I think that’s unrealistic," said Clean Elections Commissioner Mark Kimble.

"The Hobbs team hasn’t even said whether they will engage at all in the process. I can speak for Kari Lake and we view it as probably unnecessary, but we would engage in that process," said Lake's attorney, Tim Lasota.