Hobbs, Lake talk taxes, pandemic policies and how they would govern Arizona
Corrections & Clarifications: The name of the event venue was incorrect in an earlier version of the article.
Arizona's candidates for governor Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake shared their plans for economic growth and tax policy in a forum Wednesday night, the first event featuring both candidates since each won their party's nomination.
Tensions between the candidates, and their contrasts on policy and personality, were center stage in the hour-long event hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The powerful business advocacy organization is an ally of outgoing Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.
Hobbs, a Democrat and Arizona's secretary of state, said she would be ready to lead the state on her first day, if she were elected governor, thanks to her decade serving as an elected legislator and in her current post.
Lake, a Republican and former television news anchor, portrayed herself as an outsider who would surround herself with qualified aides.
Even as she blasted the media, a frequent foil of hers on the campaign trail, she said her experience covering a variety of stories prepared her to lead.
The forum allowed each candidate roughly 20 minutes on stage alone to field questions submitted by chamber members, an arrangement that Chamber President and CEO Danny Seiden said "was a decision made by the Chamber, not influenced by either candidate or campaign team."
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Seiden, who asked questions at the event at Republic National Distributing Company in Phoenix, cited Hobbs' support of Proposition 208 — a tax increase to fund education that Arizona voters approved in 2020 but was struck down this year after a lengthy court battle — and asked if she would advocate for higher taxes.
"Absolutely not. I am pro-growth," Hobbs said. "And I want to be clear that my disappointment at that ruling was more about the years of efforts that our teachers and parents put into trying to increase funding for education. And many times they're shut out of the conversation in those discussions."
Hobbs noted that raising taxes in Arizona requires a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature.
"I like the answer, I feel like it's a little bit of a slogan, I couldn't raise taxes even if I wanted to," Seiden pushed Hobbs.
"Not on the table," she replied.
Lake said, as governor, she would be "for lowering taxes every place that we can."
Lake said she would work to lower taxes every year, which would also take cooperation of the Arizona Legislature, offering a plan with annual targeted tax cuts: to sales tax in her first year if she is elected governor, property tax in her second year, followed by income tax and then other fees.
She did not offer specifics of how much she would seek to cut, nor how the state would accommodate for lost revenues.
"We're going to work on bringing the income tax back; I'd like to bring it down to zero," Lake said. "But I don't like to make promises that I can't deliver on. So we're going to work to bring it down to zero if we can."
Ducey set a similar goal on the campaign trail in 2014, saying he'd get income tax rates "as close to zero as possible," and last year fought to secure support for a phased-in flat income tax that amounts to an about $2 billion cut.
Negotiations over the tax cut held up Arizona's state budget last year despite single-vote Republican majorities in each chamber.
The makeup of the Legislature next year, when a new governor has the veto pen and the bully pulpit of the executive suite, could shift dramatically. All 90 seats are on the ballot this November using a newly minted political map. More than a dozen incumbents lost their Aug. 2 primary elections, meaning a large freshman class is on its way to the Capitol.
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Government grip or local control?
Both candidates fielded questions about how they would work with local governments, an issue that came to a head in 2020 and 2021 as Ducey's plan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic was often at odds with local Democratic leaders.
"I want to help protect Arizonans, and if there are some outrageous policies being pushed that, frankly, for example, sanctuary cities and such, we've got to protect the citizens of Arizona ... If we have a socialist mayor, like the one we have down in Tucson, and up in Flagstaff, and in Phoenix, then we've got to help fight back and protect the people in these cities," Lake said.
She cited municipal elections that are held "on weird days where it's not convenient." Sanctuary cities — generally used to refer to municipalities that enshrine immigrant-friendly policies and do not cooperate with immigration enforcement — are already banned by law in Arizona.
Lake said "the government was so out of control during COVID, I hate to even think about it. It makes my blood boil." She said she would never shut down businesses, churches or schools and not mandate masks or vaccinations.
Hobbs cited her record in the Legislature and said she supported local control.
"Here's the thing," Hobbs said. "My door's always gonna be open. And we are all in this together in making Arizona the best place to live, work and raise a family, whether it's the business community, our cities and towns. So even when we disagree, we have to work in partnership."
Asked about government interference with business, a question that prompted Lake to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, Hobbs reiterated that she would seek "open dialogue and an open door to talk about where that balance needs to be and ensuring that workers are safe, that businesses are staying open and that our economy is strong."
A few brief attacks
The tensions of what many polls predict will be a close race to replace Ducey, who is term limited and cannot run again, were on display at the event, with each candidate taking shots at their opponent.
Arizonans begin voting in mid-October with Election Day set for Nov. 8.
Hobbs, who has sought to paint herself as a stable and sane leader to Lake's "chaos," said as much in the first minutes of her time on stage.
"I think it's important to have someone who is serious about governing and not someone who's going to continue to end up as the butt of late-night comedy television jokes. That's not going to be effective," she said, echoing her objection to appearing for a debate with Lake.
Hobbs' campaign had requested changes to the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission debate format, potentially altering a two-decade tradition, citing the frenzied Republican primary debate that even Lake dubbed an "SNL skit."
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Hobbs, who answered Seiden's questions first, left the event immediately after her Q&A as Lake sat in the audience, waiting her turn.
Afterward, Lake spoke to reporters, calling Hobbs a "coward" for being unwilling to debate her.
Lake declined to answer a question from The Arizona Republic seeking clarity on her comments during the forum opposing "terrorists in the environmental movement trying to control our businesses."
Velma Trayham, founder of Scottsdale-based Thinkzilla Consulting Group and a member of the state chamber, said she would probably vote for Lake after seeing her at the forum. She was drawn to Lake's "animated" personality and her priorities, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education.
"I like the approach of not having the previous government experience, because it allows an opportunity for innovation, it allows an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking," Trayham said.
"Actually what we need is common sense and practical thought processes in terms of changing things."
Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.
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