A bill introduced by the Arizona GOP would substantially reduce the powers of the state’s Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in the traditional and key realm of defending election lawsuits.
Unlike many GOP efforts targeting Democrats, the effort is not simply intended to gin up media coverage or campaign war chests. The bill, HB 2891, has already passed both the Grand Canyon State’s House and Senate Appropriations committees on party-line votes. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) also supports the measure–which was included in a 2021-2022 budget reconciliation package.
The “power grab” has been blasted by Democrats and voting rights advocates alike.
According to the language of the proposed law, which is likely to become the law of the land soon, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) will “make all strategic decisions regarding election litigation and be allowed to intervene” in any such litigation on the state’s behalf if he determines such intervention is “appropriate.”
The operative language is contained in §§24(A) and (B):
A. The powers and duties of the secretary of state and attorney general are prescribed by law pursuant article V, section 9, Constitution of Arizona. The legislature reaffirms that the legal defense of state election laws and procedures is of statewide importance and therefore the attorney general has the sole authority to defend such laws pursuant to the legal authority established by the legislature. The authority of the attorney general is paramount and is not shared or delegated to the secretary of state or any other state official. The exercise of the attorney general’s authority to defend state election laws is not limited by the attorney general’s advisory duties to any other state officer or agency.
B. In furtherance of the principles prescribed in subsection A of this section and to clarify legislative intent, through January 2, 2023, the attorney general has sole authority in all election litigation to direct the defense of election laws, to appeal or petition any decision and to intervene on behalf of this state at any stage, regardless of whether any state agency, any political subdivision or any officer or employee of this state or any state agency or political subdivision is, or seeks to become, a party. The legislature intends that the attorney general make all strategic decisions regarding election litigation and be allowed to intervene on behalf of this state if the attorney general determines, in the attorney general’s sole discretion, that the intervention is appropriate.
Additionally, the bill provides that the GOP attorney general “shall not represent or provide legal advice to the secretary of state or the department of state on any matters through June 30, 2023.”
The expiration date on that particular prohibition runs roughly equivalent to the time period when both the current secretary of state and attorney general end their current terms in office.
“It’s troubling and disturbing,” State Rep. Randy Friese (D) told The Arizona Republic. “It’s quite nefarious that it only lasts through 2022.”
One provision in the bill would allow Hobbs to hire “one full-time equivalent position to serve as legal advisor and to represent the secretary of state,” but that salve-like effort is itself hamstrung by further limiting language that does not allow her to “make expenditures or incur indebtedness to employ outside or private attorneys to provide representation or services.”
Hobbs, for her part, blasted the bill via Twitter.
“This isn’t just an attack on me, it’s an attack on Arizona voters,” she said before elaborating in a lengthier statement.
“All year, our legislature has worked to undermine our elections–from a wave of bills to make it harder to vote to the ridiculous ‘audit’ taking place at the Coliseum,” the Democrat’s statement reads. “It appears their next step is an attempt to undermine Arizona’s Chief Election Officer and prevent me from doing the job Arizona voters elected me to do.”
“The fact that the legislature has singled out me and my office for these unjustifiable restrictions–restrictions which expire at the end of my term–make it clear what this is really about: partisan politics,” Hobbs continued. “The most extreme members of our legislature think they can stop me from doing my job and working on behalf of Arizona voters. I’ll keep proving them wrong.”
The measure has yet to pass the full state legislature.
[image via screengrab/KNXV]
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