The Daily Agenda: The end of debates?
Arizona PBS and Clean Elections are not happy with each other ... Watching the watcher watch voters ... And we're still the new kid on the block.
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After Arizona PBS went behind the backs of the Clean Elections Commission to offer Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs equal airtime to Republican Kari Lake in a separate interview instead of a debate — just as Hobbs had originally requested and the commission rejected — the Clean Elections Commission pulled out and Arizona PBS canceled at the last minute.
It was the latest, but certainly not the last, meltdown in the ongoing drama over the debate that will probably never happen anyway.
Hobbs broke the news that AZPBS had offered her “the same format” as Lake during an interview on MSNBC yesterday, and Lake responded with a press conference outside ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. (Cronkite houses AZPBS and ASU owns its broadcast license.)
Standing in front of two comically oversized fake checks made out to “Talonya Adams” and “The Lawyers,” Lake sought “questions” from her friends at election-denying media outlets, refused to answer anything from “the Arizona Repugnant” and declared Cronkite would be turning over in his grave if he saw the press corps of today. She accused ASU President Michael Crow of plotting against her while holding up a sign with his phone number and urging people to call him to complain.
Lake then promised that if Hobbs agrees to debate her, she won’t turn the whole thing into a circus. It was just another regular day on the gubernatorial campaign trail.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but the big question is how AZPBS decided to give Hobbs a 30-minute, one-on-one interview the week after Lake’s “debate” and why it didn’t tell Clean Elections.
On the one hand, AZPBS does a lot more than just partnering with Clean Elections for debates.1 Hobbs refusing to debate shouldn’t bar the news station from ever interviewing her. On the other hand, the commission went through a public process to try to make a debate happen, and when Hobbs declined, the commission voted on a plan that is consistent with its laws and precedent.
And Clean Elections first learned about the move from reporters yesterday, just hours before its event with Lake, giving credence to the idea that there was some private deal cut between the Hobbs campaign and ASU higher-ups. AZPBS wouldn’t say who, exactly, made the call.
Lake, of course, didn’t offer any evidence to back up her suspicion that Crow is to blame. But when we asked Crow about it directly, he said he didn’t make the call himself, but he let his preference be known.
“There is no policy level decision here at my level regarding the debate,” he wrote in an email. “But I did indicate that we need to continue to fulfill our mission of unbiased and non-partisan coverage of public figures and talk to important people in the public realm like Lake and Hobbs to have the public learn of their views, even if there is no debate.”
Clean Elections executive director Tom Collins said he was “bewildered” by Crow’s comments, which he said show Crow is influencing editorial decisions at the station.
“Dr. Crow is the most powerful man in Arizona outside of Gov. Doug Ducey. Dr. Crow should not be allowed to simply pretend like he can just make a suggestion,” Collins said. “Everyone in this state knows that what Dr. Crow says goes. That is as much as an admission as Jack Nicholson on the stand in ‘A Few Good Men.’”
Collins said the commission has no objection to AZPBS interviewing Hobbs. But AZPBS didn’t tell the commission in the past month of near daily communication and didn’t respond to their questions for hours yesterday, leaving them no choice but to back out. And the fact that Hobbs announced the upcoming 30-minute one-on-one interview on the very day that Lake was set to appear for the “debate” indicates that AZPBS/ASU/Crow was quietly working with the Hobbs campaign behind the scenes, he said.
“I think that gives rise to a reasonable inference that there was political influence here at play. And the Clean Elections Commission stands against that kind of insider influence,” he said. “We do our business in public because our job is enforce laws that are about the public’s right to know.”
While the full Clean Elections Commission will have to meet to figure out how to deal with the latest debate fallout, Collins said he doesn’t know how the commission can trust AZPBS as a partner for televised debates in the future. At least, it’s going to take a lot of work to repair that relationship, he said.
As Lake predicted at her press conference, we may be “watching the decimation of a two-decade tradition” of partnership between the two organizations.
The state of abortion: The City of Phoenix approved an ordinance on Tuesday night that tells its police force not to spend its time and resources enforcing abortion bans, and states that abortion enforcement should be their lowest priority. Dual abortion court cases, one of which could include crisis pregnancy centers arguing against abortion, make for a complicated next few weeks. And Republican candidates across the country, including in Arizona, are largely avoiding questions about abortion as the issue picks up steam for voters.
The vigilantes have arrived: Some Yavapai County groups are trying to arrange round-the-clock ballot drop box watching, directing people to take photos of those dropping off ballots, their cars and license plates, Capitol Media Services’ Howie Fischer reports. But the legality of this practice is already in question because it could intimidate voters, and one group says it may sue the drop box watchers. For what it’s worth: The heavily Republican county’s voters use drop boxes at super high rates, and the county also put 24/7 cameras on all of its drop boxes this year.
Voting is the best revenge: The Republic’s editorial board ran a rare front-page editorial defending democracy, saying the foundations of our system are under attack. This year’s elections aren’t just about candidates and their positions, but the ideals and principles of a democracy, which have been shattered by many Republican leaders since the 2020 election. The editorial boosted those who stood up to election deniers and debunked the many false claims made by Donald Trump and his supporters, but didn’t name the leading election deniers running for office.
Reality of hand count: Votebeat’s Jen Fifield has the fallout of that Cochise County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to discuss a hand recount of all the county’s ballots. While the county attorney is trying to block the supervisors from doing it because she believes it’s illegal, supervisors are talking about asking Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich for a second opinion. Meanwhile, the Arizona Mirror’s Jerod MacDonald-Evoy details why county officials say it’s “impossible” to do a hand count of election results. That’s in part because each ballot contains dozens of questions that would have to be tallied, and in each of the state’s 15 counties, many of those questions are different, which adds up to tens of millions of individual votes.
“If you’re going to do a hand count, you’re probably going to have to hand count twice,” Jennifer Marson, the executive director of the Arizona Association of Counties, told the Mirror. “Literally, how will they do it? Will they tick marks on paper? Will they use Excel? Because that is a machine.”
Do you need a quiz?: Kari Lake and Katie Hobbs have differing plans for managing the border and working with the federal government on the issue, the Republic’s Stacey Barchenger reports. The Republic also has an interactive quiz where you can select your views on certain issues and see whether you align with Lake or Hobbs (they also have one for the U.S. Senate race).
Defund the police: Lake’s plan to force cities to repeal taxes on groceries and rent would decimate cities budgets and force cuts to police and fire, city advocates tell 12News’ Brahm Resnik. The taxes bring in about $340 million annually to cities (and many cities don’t have a grocery tax anyway).
Pay now or pay later: Newly appointed Pinal County elections director (and the county’s former recorder) Virginia Ross could make up to $200,000 for four months of work to repair the county’s elections after multiple problems there in this year’s primary, the Republic’s Sasha Hupka reports. The high level of compensation comes amid a high-pressure job with super long hours for Ross and recognizes that Ross missed out on some pension funds by taking the role, the county said. It’s worth noting that one of the problems that contributed to Pinal’s election issues was underfunding the elections department and its staff for years.
Big bucks for the airwaves these days: Peter Thiel is apparently willing to fork over more millions to help his former employee Blake Masters in the U.S. Senate race, but he wants Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate Leadership Fund to kick in funds to match his investment, Axios reports. The will he/won’t he on whether McConnell will put money into Arizona’s Senate race post-primary has gone on for months.
October is pivot season: Now that they’re courting independents, Arizona’s statewide Republican nominees are pivoting their position on the “stolen” 2020 election the Arizona Daily Star’s Tim Steller, writes, noting that none of them declared Trump the legitimate president while campaigning with him over the weekend.
Birds of a feather podcast together: Liberal nonprofit Media Matters details how Mark Finchem’s rise to national star in MAGA world closely coincides with the beginning of his ongoing symbiotic relationship with Steve Bannon, who has invited the secretary of state candidate on his podcast at least 57 times in the last two years. That attention brought him donors, airtime and Twitter clout as he began his run for statewide office.
We tried to ask Kari Lake a question during her press conference, but apparently she’s never heard of us.
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Full disclosure: One of our side gigs is moderating some of the legislative debates for Clean Elections, and we get paid for that work. We’re not involved in any of the statewide debates.