Arizona treasurer won't recognize agency 'executive deputy directors' after Hobbs move

By Greg Hahne
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Thursday, September 28, 2023 - 2:53pm
Updated: Friday, September 29, 2023 - 7:52am

Kimberly Yee
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
State Treasurer Kimberly Yee.

Arizona Treasurer Kimberly Yee says she won’t recognize the “executive deputy directors” named this week by Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs.

Hobbs made the designation for her cabinet nominees after removing them from the Senate’s vetting process.

Yee, the top elected Republican in Arizona, says she won’t accept those deputies as voting members of the State Board of Investment. 

That panel reviews the $30 billion in investments of the treasurer and serves as trustee for certain funds. It also, by law, includes the director of the Department of Administration and the Department of Insurance and Financial Institutions.

"So, if we don't have the Senate confirmation process and the accountability on behalf of the taxpayer, then we really do have some rogue people sitting in top positions, making executive decisions, and who are not elected, for a very long time," Yee said. 

All of this comes as the new Senate Director Nominations Committee refused to confirm 13 of Hobbs’ nominations, leaving them in legal limbo.

"We expect Treasurer Yee to stop playing political games,'' responded Christian Slater, the governor's press aide. He contends the law allows these deputies to serve as designees, saying the treasurer should "seat the duly authorized board members and ensure government keeps working on behalf of Arizonans.''

Tactic used before in 1991

Jane Hull, Jan Brewer and Fife Symington
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Former Gov. Jane Hull (right) at the 2015 inauguration ceremonies for Doug Ducey. With her are Jan Brewer (left) and Fife Symington.

But Yee, who had made a short-lived bid for governor in 2021 before withdrawing from the GOP primary and deciding instead to seek reelection for her own office, said the issue goes beyond the members of the investment board. She said if there are not Senate-confirmed people heading agencies "then we really do have some rogue people sitting in top positions, making executive decisions, and who are not elected, for a very long time.''

"I believe she is thumbing her nose at the law,'' the treasurer said of the governor. Yee said Hobbs should understand that, with the two having served in the Senate at the same time.

It turns out, though, that the tactic is not new.

It happened to the Democrats who controlled the Senate in 1991 after they refused to confirm the choice of Republican Gov. Fife Symington to head the Department of Administration. He turned then named that person as the agency's deputy and left the top slot vacant.

But Senate President Warren Petersen said that was different because the majority Democrats chose not to fight the move. That, however, isn't the case here, where the Gilbert Republican has threatened legal action.

And there's another complicating factor.

The Arizona Constitution spells out that in the governor's "absence from the state,'' the next in line automatically assumes the powers and duties of the office.

Hobbs has been out of state since Sunday and was not set to return until Thursday morning.

Secretary of State Adrian Fontes was scheduled to leave Wednesday night. And Attorney General Kris Mayes also is gone.

Strictly speaking, that has left Yee in charge.

But no acting governor in decades, however, has actually attempted to circumvent or countermand actions taken by the elected governor. And Yee said she would not use that power to fill what she said are the 13 vacancies or call the Legislature into special session.

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